Alumna’s Life Transformed By Living In A Cree Community

Jenny Shantz (’99, ’16) insists that Trinity Western University quite literally changed the course of her life. This happened in part because of the teaching and guidance of Dr. Bruce Shelvey, Associate Professor of History and Political studies. While a student, Shantz developed a greater understanding of the impacts of colonization on Indigenous people in Canada.

“One of the things Dr. Shelvey taught me was the need to learn from and listen to the voices of our Indigenous neighbors,” says Shantz. “When we desire to learn about Canadian history, it’s important not just to read history books written by colonizers or those with that Eurocentric power lens, but instead to hear directly from the voice of Indigenous people.”

For her final history project with Dr. Shelvey, Shantz says she and her classmates were required to do direct interviews with members of the Indigenous community, or if that wasn’t possible, to research original documents from Indigenous people. A few of them decided to head over to a reserve on Vancouver Island.

“The couple who hosted us invited community members over to play traditional hand games. That was just incredible. They drummed for hours,” says Shantz. “Then another community member brought us to meet with an elder who had a vibrant relationship with her Creator.”

Shantz says that she did not have many opportunities to interact with the Indigenous population growing up, as she came from a bit of a “Christian bubble”.

“One thing that broke my heart was seeing how a lot of the Indigenous community believe Christianity is a white man’s religion, because it was such a big tool in colonization,” says Shantz. “Many of them don’t realize that Jesus was a refugee in Africa at two-years-old.”

Shantz says she hates how the Western cultural perspective has shaped Christianity into something that benefits the ruling majority, when it originated from Jewish people while under occupation by the Romans. Over time, she began to wonder how she could help retell the story of the gospel and actually get back to its roots, by aligning herself with those being oppressed.

Life On Driftpile Cree Nation

The impact of the things she learned from Dr. Shelvey and the things she heard from members of the Indigenous community in Vancouver birthed in Shantz a passion to humble herself and learn as much as she could. In 2004, she moved to Driftpile Cree Nation in Northern Alberta, where she worked as a teacher.

“I needed to spend that time in community and learn first-hand. It was really amazing to be able to teach at a school where when they wanted a gathering, men in the community would go off and hunt a moose and the next day you’d see the women preparing it for moose stew.”

“There was such a respect of nature and creation,” adds Shantz, who says she was amazed to see their knowledge of the land, plants, and animals.

After returning to B.C. from Driftpile, Shantz was hired by the Surrey School District as an Aboriginal Enhancement Teacher. She worked in this role doing professional development in a long house and was able to spend time outdoors learning from elders and hearing from Indigenous leaders.

Through these experiences, Shantz says her life has been turned upside down—in a good way.

Inner Hope

In 2007, Shantz and her roommate Carla Dickinson (‘09) decided to launch Inner Hope Youth Ministries, a non-profit in East Vancouver that walks alongside youth and families by providing a safe, stable support network. Many of them are Indigenous and healing from the impacts of Residential Schools and intergenerational trauma.

Shantz and Dickinson had been doing youth work in East Vancouver for ten years, but there was no Christian agency that provided housing for youth in the area.

“After a 19-year-old girl we were close to died in a stolen car crash, we knew we needed to do something different. We just wanted to help keep kids alive who were in precarious situations by meeting their urgent needs day by day,” says Shantz, adding that it was important for her to do this in a context that shared how Jesus really does care about every individual, family, and nation.

“We were running full tilt,” says Shantz of 2007. “I was teaching full-time, we had a teenage mom and her toddler living with us, and before the year was over we had another teen on our couch. We didn’t have time to plan or strategize. We had no money. It was literally all faith.”

Shantz says they were only able to get Inner Hope Youth Ministries going through the help of stakeholders from the community and people with a background in social work and non-profits who volunteered their help (many who came from the Trinity Western community).

“Every step has a been a leap of faith,” says Shantz. “We lived day to day and trusted God to get us through and open doors.”

Over time, Shantz became so loved and respected by the East Vancouver community that one grandmother adopted her as one of her children through Blackfoot tradition.

“Some of her kids refer to me as sister,” says Shantz. “I even have one of her grandchildren living with me right now.”

Today, Shantz still works as the Executive Director of Inner Hope Youth Ministries and is encouraged to see how the ministry has been able to help dozens of youth have a second home where they can be cared for and mentored in time of need.

Building Relationships Changes Lives

“I have been adopted into Blackfoot and Nisga’a families and have a completely new understanding of the history of Turtle Island (Canada),” says Shantz. “Life is much more vibrant as I have experienced more joy, laughter, pain and suffering than I could have ever imagined.”

Shantz hopes that through sharing her story, others from outside the Indigenous community will be encouraged to begin the process of listening to and learning from one another. Shantz says she has been slow to learn how to listen and is still working on it to this day.

“We need less of ‘us’ and ‘them’. We need each other,” says Shantz. “I hope there’s learning on both sides, but we can’t learn unless we’re in deeper friendship and relationship with one another.”

Carla Dickinson (‘09) and Jenny Shantz (’99, ’16) in the Inner Hope office hallway, next to pictures of the many youth who have been a part of the program.

— About Inner Hope
Since 2007, Inner Hope has offered support to hundreds of young people, often becoming a second home where youth can have a meal, do their laundry, celebrate their birthday or do their homework. We offer youth ways to pursue discipleship, encouraging them to grow in faith through church attendance, Bible studies, retreats and summer camps. Our life skills programs include Boundless, a one-on-one high school mentoring program and Post Secondary Support, focusing on helping young adults transition into college or the workplace after high school. Over the past 12 years, Inner Hope has provided housing for over 50 young people. Through all our programs, we share the hope of new life gained through the mercy and grace of a loving God.

We are funded primarily by private donors, businesses, churches and foundations across Canada who are excited to do what they can to provide hope to youth in East Vancouver. Inner Hope is a registered Canadian charity.