Full Circle

Tony Snow of the Community Care Ministry draws on family, community and history to build bridges at McDougall United Church. 

Growing up on the Stoney Nakoda First Nation, Tony Snow says he knows what it looks like for someone to lose sight of his or her spirituality.    

“When people lose their jobs, that’s often when they lose their faith. When they lose faith, they lose a sense of themselves and that can lead to a community with high suicide rates, depression and social ills that become family and community-wide problems. Spirituality is really tied to employment in ways that most people don’t see,” said Snow. 

He found himself in a similar position in 2015, in the thick of the economic downturn when the price of oil was spiralling down. Snow spent 15 years in public relations in the oil and gas industry, working with elders and community members to help them understand development projects on traditional land. Job opportunities were dwindling, but instead of losing faith, he drew from it. 

Snow’s brother enrolled at the Sandy-Saulteaux Spriritual Centre in Manitoba, where First Nation, Metis and Inuit peoples start their education to become lay, diaconal and ordained ministers in the United Church of Canada. He followed, after seeing hope in a new career and eventually his sister also enrolled.  

“Given the situation on reserves and with First Nations communities right now, I think we really saw a moral and social calling to the church,” he said. 

It seemed inevitable that the children of the late Dr. Rev. Chief John Snow, a renowned spiritual and political leader in southern Alberta, would follow his path. 

“It was bound to happen eventually. We were all resistant coming into the church and now that we’re here, we see the path and what the benefits are of ordination, how we can work within the church and try to help out, especially with aboriginal communities,” said Snow. 

His father was the first indigenous person to become an ordained minister in Alberta. The reverend spent 30 years as the chief of Stoney Nakoda First Nation and up until his death in 2007, he was still writing about history and penning poetry. 

Snow began his new role with McDougall’s Community Care Ministry in July 2017. He sees himself as a bridge between communities that share a long-held bond. On one side, Snow hopes his nieces, nephews and community members can look at McDougall United Church and its worship services in a relatable and approachable way.  At the same time, he considers his start at McDougall to be a full circle step that reinforces a historic partnership between the Stoney Nakoda people and the man who shares our church’s namesake. 

“It’s been a good and bad relationship, but we do see the benefit of working together. We’ve always tried to reach out to one another and that helped when the initial McDougalls came to Alberta and into Blackfoot territory,” explained Snow. 

Rev. George McDougall first made contact with the Stoneys in 1864. Years before, Rev. Henry Bird Steinhauer, an Ojibwa minister and missionary from Ontario, had introduced Christianity to several groups in the west. 

“When the McDougalls came to Morley they noticed the Stoneys were already observing Sabbath and doing special things on Sundays and they kind of wondered, why and how?” laughs Snow. “The McDougalls built on that, they built what became the McDougall Memorial Church and others in the area. So there’s always been a connection.”

Responding to the call of some of McDougall’s most vulnerable congregation members, Snow expects to draw from his experiences with his family and community to help bring faith and light to those struggling. He continues to pursue his Master of Divinity at the Vancouver School of Theology, with a special focus on Native Ministry Care.