Monday, August 10, 2015

Regina, Saskatchewan hosted the annual North American Interfaith Network (NAIN) this year. One of the 15 sponsors was Multi-Faith Saskatchewan, of which IofC Canada is a member. Representing IofC Canada were Gwen McLean, who has been on the executive of Multi-Faith Saskatchewan for several years, and Janyce Konkin from Calgary.

Here are some observatons by Paul Chaffee of San Francisco, California, who edits the publication Interfaith Observer. For his full report please click here.

IofC Canada participates in North American Interfaith Network conference

Initiatives of Change Canada stand at North American Interfaith Network Connect in Regina, Saskatchewan


Regina, Saskatchewan, July 23, 2015-- Regina is a community of 210,000 set on the vast prairies of Saskatchewan nearly 500 miles from the nearest big city. To call it a hotbed of interfaith activity would court disbelief if you didn’t know better. But on July 19-22, Regina hosted the North American Interfaith Network’s 2015 ‘NAIN Connect’, an annual event begun in 1988 that brings together grassroots interfaith activists deeply engaged in their local communities.

The theme this year, “Restoring Spirit through Sacred Listening,” was unpacked in all sorts of ways. We listened to stories of Baha’i’s still being viciously oppressed in Iran, a workshop which evoked tears and requests for how to help ideas. We listened to sacred Sikh songs (bhajans) and watched sacred Hindu stories being danced and ventured into improvisatory theatre – each art form an avenue into spiritual experience. The deep, disciplined listening at the heart of Buddhist mindfulness was explored. We spent time listening to those who spoke from and for communities living on the margins of life. One workshop focused on listening to stories of religious terror.

We heard about The Green Room, a progressive Muslim revival movement in Edmonton, and what a comfort it is for Muslim millennials in the middle of their faith formation. We heard Zarqa Nawaz’s hilarious story of growing up Muslim in a tiny Canadian community and producing “Little Mosque on the Prairie,” a six-season television show that has been broadcast in 65 countries. 

The opening evening featured a banquet set in the magnificent glass-tent atrium of the First Nations University. Aboriginal participation in NAIN has been important for the past decade, but Regina’s program raised the bar. Canada has taken its atrocious behavior towards First Nations people much more seriously than the United States. The terrible stories we heard about the oppression – particularly in schools that systematically stripped Aboriginal children of family, language and culture – were framed against a backdrop of treaties that the government has taken seriously in recent years. Treaty 4 (1874-77), established with Britain’s Queen Victoria, governs Regina’s and most of southern Saskatchewan’s relationship with Aboriginal peoples.

The opening plenary was delivered by Dr. Marie Wilson, a point person in the painful but constructive Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) hearings that concluded recently. She reviewed the ten principles of reconciliation that guided the TRC.

But First Nations involvement included much more than this grim history. We heard magnificent drumming and singing. Elder Betty McKenna led a tour of the First Nations University’s healing gardens where flowers and herbs used in traditional medicine are grown. June Berry Woman, aka Rev. Dr. Bernice Saulteaux, talked about religion among the Aboriginal tribes of Saskatchewan.

This year’s gathering was held at Luther College, part of a consortium of colleges which comprise the University of Saskatchewan. The huge campus is set in gorgeous parkland running along a beautiful lake. Three other campus institutions were partners in the effort, Campion College (a Jesuit institution), the University of Regina, and First Nations University of Canada, all built on Treaty 4 lands. Heavy lifting came from The Regina Multifaith Forum and Multi-Faith Saskatchewan.

The depth and breadth of what Regina produced in this “land of the living skies” is a perfect example of how far the global interfaith movement has penetrated communities everywhere. The issues were not a rehash of old interfaith presentations but a venture into new arenas. As a conference, it was totally professional, with a down-home friendliness. Thank you, Regina!

Paul Chaffee, San Francisco, California

For the full report, please click here.