Early on a Sunday morning in late March, the Anglican community of Christ Church Cathedral gathered to learn about the many ways to find God. This particular morning members of the community listened eagerly to Deacon Rennie Nahanee, one of the Archdiocese of Vancouver’s permanent deacons, sharing how he finds God, and how important it is to his community to have a First Nations deacon.

Deacon Nahanee is not shy about his faith journey. It is the journey of a First Nations man who went from being just another member of the Catholic community at St. Paul’s Parish in North Vancouver, to becoming a deacon for the Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver.

At the beginning of his journey there were moments when Deacon Nahanee was not necessarily fully engaged in his Catholic faith life. After he was married and had kids, he and his wife decided to raise their children in the faith. He also realized he needed to reconnect himself with God and his Church.

For Deacon Nahanee, an important step on this journey was getting involved in music ministry at St. Paul’s Parish. Or rather, being thrown into music ministry. He does not hesitate to say he did not know how to connect the hymns to the readings of the day.

It was only when he took the Pillars of New Earth Course, designed for Native American lay leaders, that he says he really learned to pray. He also learned about Scripture and how to pick hymns that fit the readings of the day. This course also taught him how important his work as a music minister could be for other people’s faith journey.

While taking the course he met a native religious sister, Sister Dorothy Bob of the congregation of the Sisters of Saint Ann. She introduced him to a pilgrimage spot in Lillooet that was important to First Nations people.

That is where he met First Nations Deacon Leonard Sampson, who spoke about his ministry. At the time, the Archdiocese of Vancouver did not have a permanent diaconate program, but that was not about to stop God’s plans.

On a later visit to the site, after Deacon Leonard had passed away, Nahanee lay awake in the middle of a pitch-black night. When he looked up at the ceiling of his tent, he saw a light in the shape of a cross shining through his tent. Deacon Nahanee told his audience at Christ Church Cathedral, “there was no light anywhere that night.” As he lay there staring at this unexplainable cross of light he felt it was a sign telling him to continue Deacon Leonard’s work.

Still, there was no permanent diaconate program in the archdiocese. In 1998 Deacon Nahanee was invited by his parish priest to become a voting member of the synod of the archdiocese of Vancouver. One of the things that came up during the synod was that people wanted to see a diaconate program created in the archdiocese. Fast forward to 2009, three years after the conclusion of the synod, and Rennie Nahanee was part of the first class of diaconal candidates.

Today Deacon Nahanee is the coordinator of First Nations Ministry at the archdiocese, a ministry that has as its mission finding ways to bring Indigenous people back to the Catholic faith, and to help non-Indigenous people understand the need for reconciliation between First Nations peoples and non-native Canadians.

Talks like the one at Christ Church Anglican Cathedral serve, according to the deacon, to help the “Christian community see another facet of the Indigenous community from someone who has lived there and knows the history. Our history (First Nations) has not been included in Canadian history, our contributions which have been large such as land, mineral and water resources, the forests and other natural resources have been taken away from us, leaving us poor and needy. People who have not been part of the solution to reconciliation are part of the problem.”

When asked what still needs to be done to work towards reconciliation with First Nations peoples, Deacon Nahanee said, “you need to have an Indigenous person to advise staff members who work in the schools, hospitals, military, universities, museums, police, churches, etc., to learn about Indigenous protocols, history, and issues. Then the organization itself needs to develop protocols on how to work with Indigenous peoples who can facilitate a connection between the two groups thus leading to a beginning of reconciliation, then hopefully friendship between the two groups, since we are all Canadians.”