The Rev. Dr. Terry LeBlanc is many things – a scholar with a Ph.D. from Asbury Theological Seminary, a prolific author, a tireless organizer, a devoted husband and father. One thing he is not is shy, particularly when the subject is learning opportunities for Native North American and other indigenous students.
“Historically theological education or pastoral training for Indigenous folks in North America and elsewhere was undertaken at a level consistent with upper-level Sunday school or lower-level Bible Institute,” said LeBlanc, a Mi’kmaq/Acadian.
“I say that a little bit tongue-in-cheek, but there was nothing rigorous in terms of scholarship. Students were provided answers to questions, instead of promoting the rigorous theological education of Western institutions.
“When questions of faith and culture arose, they were tackled from a very Western paradigm that suggested one would be forced to choose if one wanted to be Indigenous or Christian – one could not be the two simultaneously,” LeBlanc said.
Twenty years ago, LeBlanc served as founding chair of NAIITS: An Indigenous Learning Community (formerly known as North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies). He directs what is now the first Indigenous-designed, delivered, and governed theological training institution accredited by the Association of Theological Schools (ATS). Its vision is straightforward: “Our desire is to see men and women journey down the road of a living heart relationship with Jesus in a transformative way – one which does not require the rejection of their Creator-given social and cultural identity.”
NAIITS has built pathways of learning for native North American and other indigenous students with, among others, Sioux Falls Seminary, Tyndale Theological Seminary, and Acadia Divinity College, and with the University of Divinity and Whitley College, both in Melbourne, Australia.
“It’s important for us to offer an accredited program that allows students to access funding and receive a rigorous theological education delivered from an Indigenous perspective,” LeBlanc says.