World Divisions

North American

Indigenizing Christian Education: A lot More than Integration

Indigenous people and the Christian church have had a nuanced history that is fresh in the minds of many, especially in schooling and education. Historically, many unexamined indigenous cultures, languages, beliefs and practices have been demonized, rejected, and condemned. Nevertheless, the greatest question worth asking as Christians is how Jesus would have reacted to Indigenous ways of life in His teachings. I posit that the continued existence and thriving of Indigenous communities, Christian schools, and Christian churches in North America is worth a dialogue.

A happy group of teenage students smile as they make their way to their classes for university. They are carrying their bags, books and technology with them.Fundamental questions leading this discussion include: how can Adventist teachers introduce alternative epistemologies in their classrooms? How can Adventist teachers benefit from the rich culture of the many Indigenous groups on the planet? How can we encourage conversations on the role of the church in restitution of the harm caused many indigenous communities around the world? How can Indigenous teaching methods and reasoning promote positive change within the classroom environment? What will it entail to have a Christianized, Indigenous content in the classroom? What criteria would be used in selecting cultural practices and knowledge forms needed in these classrooms?

How can we accomplish this? Indigenous concepts, sayings of elders, proverbs, folk stories, music, poetry, adages, and other oral traditions, integrated with a Christian framework in our classrooms will provide an enabling environment for knowledge production. I am not implying we should be blind to some fundamental differences within the two worldviews. However, our goal is to encourage a dialogue that would promote unity in diversity. My experience as an Indigenous African presently living and teaching in Canada has given me a unique lens into the relationships of Indigenous communities and settlers and some of the impacts thereof. Settlement — either through colonization, migration (forced or voluntary), and/or immigration and emigration — has a complicated history.

First, history shows that most Indigenous people across the world did not resist settlers on their first arrival. This could be due to their unique ontological understanding of the world. The world and all things in it belong to the Creator and must be shared in love and respect with all people and this might be the real reason behind their willingness to accept people into their midst with little or no question.

In addition, with Indigenous peoples’ belief in spirituality, it was always easier for them to accept religious settler communities that also believed in spirituality. In my country of origin, Ghana, the native tribe of Ashanti shared very similar belief systems with the early Seventh-day Adventist missionaries, making it easier for the spread of the gospel. Similarly, many Native Americans shared a similar worldview with missionaries. Such histories make it evident that the recent calls on institutions across North America to engage Natives or Indigenous people in healthy communication to learn and share their ideas in the classroom is a phenomenon long overdue. This is because, not only will schools benefit from shared practices and beliefs, but will aid in offering a reconciliatory process for the many years of abuse, exploitation, and dehumanization of Indigenous peoples.

Isaac Darko
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