A First Nations man is calling for a meeting with the pastor of Immanuel Pentecostal Church in Winnipeg after a smudging ceremony was not allowed to take place because it clashed with the church's values.
The Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) postponed its 50th anniversary benefit concert, which was to be held at the church, after officials discovered the Buffalo Gals drum group was set to carry out a smudging ceremony.
Smudging does not align with Christian values, according to the church.
'While we respect native spirituality, and the rights of folks to practise within their culture, it would be inappropriate to confuse it with Christianity, because there's little affinity between native spirituality and Christianity,"' - Pastor Scott Bullerwell
"For us as a Christian church, [smudging] would be in violation of our core values as a Christian assembly," said Scott Bullerwell, lead pastor at Immanuel Pentecostal Church.
It isn’t that the church is intolerant or hostile toward “diversity” per se, said Bullerwell.
“The policies that govern the use of our facilities are not about wanting to celebrate diversity,” said Bullerwell. “They are simply an affirmation of our belief system and a reflection of our statement of faith.”
Bullerwell maintained that there is tension between native spirituality and Christianity, and he expects it will be like that for some time.
"While we respect native spirituality, and the rights of folks to practise within their culture, it would be inappropriate to confuse it with Christianity, because there's little affinity between native spirituality and Christianity," said Bullerwell
He also said MCC entered into a contractual agreement with the church to use its facilities for their event, and that they knew smudging would not be permitted beforehand.
He said it was ultimately MCC executive director Ron Janzen's decision to postpone.
"At the end of the day it was their decision, MCC, to pull the meeting," said Bullerwell.
Smudging not a religious act: Sinclair
Niigaan Sinclair, an assistant professor in the native studies department at the University of Manitoba, says a smudging ceremony is not a religious act, but a spiritual one.
"The Buffalo Gals are simply looking to touch the earth before they perform," Sinclair said. "Their songs are about the earth. They're about the relationships in this place, they're about the celebration of life in this place. But to deny that is to simply disable them to perform."
Sinclair planned to hand-deliver a letter to Bullerwell on Sunday (available below). However, Sinclair said Sunday evening he was late dropping off the letter and was unable to directly hand it to the pastor.
Sinclair said he believes the church has a responsibility to allow everyone into its space because it sits on Treaty One Territory.
"The larger issue at hand is that these individuals, who are members of a Treaty One Territory, are forgetting their responsibility that they have to invite everyone into their space and to enable everyone to be a part of this magnificent building that they have," Sinclair said.
"It's not that anyone is asking anyone to change their religion but it's to be open to the dialogue and to learn because I don't think that they understand what smudging is," Sinclair said.
Immanuel Pentecostal Church has a facility capacity of 1,400 people, which makes it an attractive venue for many groups. Around 500 people attend Sunday services each week.
Read Niigaan Sinclair's letter to Immanuel Pentecostal Church below: