Reconciliation Is A Personal Journey For New Hamburg Minister

For several generations, Rev. Maggie Dieter’s heritage has been a blend of Cree spirituality and Christianity.

Zion United’s new minister, Rev. Maggie Dieter said, “My Cree values and Christian values resonate. They align when we talk about our values of kindness and truth, and a loving neighbour, compassion.” (Photo: Nigel Gordijk)

Zion United’s new minister, Rev. Maggie Dieter said, “My Cree values and Christian values resonate. They align when we talk about our values of kindness and truth, and a loving neighbour, compassion.” (Photo: Nigel Gordijk)

Rev. Maggie Dieter’s spiritual journey has taken her from the Peepeekisis First Nation reserve in southern Saskatchewan, all the way to Wilmot township. In December last year, she joined New Hamburg’s Zion United Church as its new minister.

“It’s been a mix, in terms of my cultural heritage, my identity as an Indigenous person, and someone who has been raised and has grown in the Christian community,” she said.

Dieter is of the Cree Nation, and while her family’s heritage offered a blended sense of spirituality, there have been challenges along the way. Her paternal grandparents built Wanakepew United Church, a wooden-frame church on the Peepeekisis reserve where they would worship, and, at the same time, the Canadian government’s Indian Act banned them from publicly exhibiting aspects of their ancestral identity.

“(They) had knowledge of the ways of the Cree people, around the spirituality and religious practices, but they carried both,” she said. “In my grandparents’ era, their expression of the Indigenous spirituality or rituals could not be out in the open, so they, along with their neighbours and friends, practiced these ways of praying, these ways of worshipping, and also fully committed to the Presbyterian church on my reserve.”

When they were children, Dieter’s grandparents were forced by the government to attend an Indian Industrial School, where lessons were focussed on teaching trade skills.

“They were there, plucked off of their community from the land, to go and learn the skills of farming and domestic labour,” she said.

Her father and his siblings were also taken away as children to File Hill Residential School, which was close to their reserve.

“My father became a runner. He was 7, 8 years old, running to get home to his parents, only to be picked up by the RCMP and taken back to school.”

Because of the systemic harm caused to her family and other Indigenous people, for many years Dieter struggled to merge the two fundamental aspects of her identity.

“The church is complicit in causing harm to family structures, culture and language,” she said. “And yet, it’s so separate from what I understand to be a disciple, to be a follower of Jesus, the foundation of our Christian faith. My sense is, looking back, if I didn’t have the upbringing that I had, I might not have been able to come to terms with that, to reconcile that. That indeed was my call to ministry, reconciliation.”

At their core, Indigenous and Christian cultures both have the concept of a Creator, which Dieter believes are one and the same. Her sense of God comes through a connection to the land, as well as through culture and people, including her family.

“I think what my faith journey has taught me is that it’s God of many names,” she said. “So, it’s creator God, loving God, it’s one God, and we come to know God in different ways in our various cultures. It’s not a different God.”

“My Cree values and Christian values resonate. They align when we talk about our values of kindness and truth, and a loving neighbour, compassion. From learning from Indigenous elders, from learning from the land, when I turn to the scripture, there isn’t a conflict.”

Dieter agrees with the comment made by former senator Murray Sinclair as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was winding down, that reconciliation is not an Indigenous issue, but a Canadian one.

“The thing about reconciliation and what I call ‘courageous conversations’ is that we all need to bring ourselves to that conversation. I worked very closely with the Truth and Reconciliation process as it was being played out across the country, so I’ve had a lot of opportunity to listen to Senator Sinclair.”

She empathizes with people who find it difficult to join the discussion.

“Often, we are hesitant to ask questions. Are they stupid questions, should I know this? We know that we haven’t been taught history in schools, so sometimes we’re afraid to let it be known that we don’t know. I think it’s important that we all take leadership together, and we all have resources to bring knowledge. And I do, too, and I will be a part of that.”

After spending much of her early life on the prairies, Dieter quickly re-established a close relationship with the land when she arrived in Wilmot.

“I’m getting out on the trails, learning where they are. On a Sunday afternoon, I just need to get out on the land. I do feel that connection, and I’m looking forward to more of that. For me, the land is an important connection. It’s a beautiful area.”

Zion’s congregation is already making her feel at home.

“I’m really excited to be a part of the Zion United Church. It’s a wonderful, loving community of faith.”