Serving First Nations in the city

Delegates from cities across Canada and the US will gather in Phoenix, Ariz. next week to discuss issues facing First Nations people living in urban areas.


The gathering—an annual event called Urban Network—will host panels and workshops on topics including leadership development, mental health in youth and young adults, worship and prayer, and teaching of tradition and language.

The Rev. Canon Virginia Doctor, General Synod’s Indigenous ministries coordinator, will lead a delegation of 4 people from the Anglican Church of Canada. While there, Doctor will run workshops on leadership and discipleship.

“It’s a time to learn, a time to come together for mutual support-because urban ministry is really difficult,” says Doctor. “The areas are so big, and people are so scattered. It’s difficult to form a community. We’re hopefully going to be able to talk about those places that have had success in terms of urban ministry, like San Jose or Winnipeg. We want to share best practices.”

Urban Network takes place Oct 9 through 11, and is followed by Native American Saints/Recognition Days on Oct 12 and 13-featuring further discussion, traditional dancing, and a celebration of the Eucharist.

Sharon Pasula is another delegate from the ACC heading down to Phoenix. Pasula works with Native Counselling Services of Alberta and is a sessional instructor at St. Joseph’s College, University of Alberta campus, where she teaches a course on interactions between Christianity and Aboriginal spiritual traditions.

She has also been involved in community, personal, and spiritual development for First nations people living in urban areas for the past 10-15 years.

“You know that was kind of my calling. It was my heart,” says Pasula. “First of all I started on my own healing journey, and when you start on your own you’re able to identify needs in other people.”

This will be Pasula’s first time attending Urban Network. “I’m going as a participant, but I’m sensing in my spirit that the Creator is going to open a door somewhere. So I’m going prepared to do something-if it’s a breakout session, or even just to share for 5-10 minutes someplace. And I’ll be taking a gift to give to the organizers and to the host church.”

Despite the passion of the people who work with First Nations people in cities, there’s always a need for more help. “A place like Toronto needs more,” says Doctor. “It’s a place where we definitely need more workers, and we’re hoping to do that by offering the catechist training here in Toronto for folks who are interested in doing urban ministry.”

Ellen Cook, retired teacher from Manitoba and volunteer extraordinaire, will also be travelling as part of the delegation.

Cook began volunteering long before retirement, and has now made it her main occupation. She serves on the board of Sunshine House, a support organization for homeless people living with or at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS in downtown Winnipeg-where the majority of homeless people are also First Nations. She is also on the board of Initiatives for Just Communities, which helps support First Nations people who live with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and have had trouble with the law.

It seems, however, that her hands-on work with women in the provincial correctional system-holding Bible studies and prayer sessions-moves Cook the most.

“When you go into the women’s prison here, it’s mostly native women, and it’s overcrowded,” says Cook. “75% of them are just waiting for a court date. They haven’t been to court yet because the remand is so overcrowded.”

This will also be Cook’s first time at Urban Network, and she’s looking forward to connect with urban workers.

“I’m hoping that it’s people sharing their experiences and getting ideas on how we can minister to people that are in need. First Nations people… it seems like they’re the most needy of anyone to be ministered to, and I’m hoping to make some connections and share ideas on what we can do.”

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