ACIP, church leaders examine relationship

Published October 1, 2003

Aboriginal Anglicans and leaders of the Anglican Church of Canada will meet in Winnipeg in early October, seeking to explore a relationship fractured by dissent over the agreement with the federal government that limits church liability in native schools lawsuits. A leadership conference, which will be closed to the public, will take place Oct. 7-10 and include members of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP), Archbishop Michael Peers (the primate), three of the four metropolitans (senior bishops), members of the Council of General Synod (CoGS) and of the General Synod 2004 planning team, said Donna Bomberry, co-ordinator of indigenous ministries with the national church office in Toronto. “ We want to revisit the covenant,” said Ms. Bomberry, referring to the 1994 agreement between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Anglicans that said native Anglicans would form “a new, self-determining community within the Anglican Church of Canada.” It also said the “hand of partnership” was extended “to all those who will help us build a truly Anglican indigenous church in Canada.” Bishop Steven Charleston, dean and president of the Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, Mass., will co-ordinate discussions on leadership in church and community, cultural knowledge, what it means to be Christian and aboriginal, and understanding social issues. However, not all aboriginal Anglicans agree about the need for the conference. The diocesan council in Keewatin, where there is a significant aboriginal population, sent a message to Archbishop Peers asking that the conference be cancelled, said Bishop David Ashdown of Keewatin. The council would like to see a larger gathering, such as a national “sacred circle” convened, said Bishop Ashdown. A sacred circle planned for last August was cancelled due to the withdrawal of a major funder. ACIP later decided to put its resources toward the October leadership conference. “ Now you have the establishment getting together. It’s not a traditional aboriginal way of doing things,” said Bishop Ashdown, relaying the concerns of the aboriginal members of council. (Bishop Ashdown is not aboriginal.) The bishop said the plan to have a closed meeting also concerned him. “The diocesan council is concerned that the discussion be on as broad a base as possible. Keewatin believes in the principle of transparency. Let’s put everything on the table; let’s be very open,” he said. Ellie Johnson, director of General Synod’s partnerships department, which includes staff support for ACIP, said in an interview, “I think it is unfortunate that that’s their decision (to close the meeting).” Organizers of the gathering said they were closing the meeting in order to build “a safe spot where people can share what the experience has been, and create a time for the Spirit to bring something new,” said Ms. Bomberry, speaking on ACIP’s behalf. “We are creating space and time without the influence of others around us.” Members of ACIP represent native Anglicans nationwide. The dispute with church leaders flared last March, when the agreement with the federal government was signed. ACIP members, stating they had not been adequately consulted, boycotted the signing ceremony. Their concerns focused on a government proposal that natives who choose to enter an alternate dispute resolution process be required to sign a release form waiving the right to sue the government in the future. ACIP members also objected to a “grid” system that assigned different settlement amounts to different types of physical and sexual abuse. (Ralph Goodale, the federal minister in charge of residential schools resolution, wrote a letter to the Anglican Journal this month to address some of ACIP’s concerns. See his letter) At Council of General Synod’s spring meeting, the question of “consultation” was raised in a report from the officers of General Synod, which noted that “Archdeacon (Larry) Beardy (an aboriginal member of the team that negotiated the agreement) and the General Secretary (Archdeacon Jim Boyles) attended all meetings of ACIP and briefed members as the negotiations proceeded.” Archdeacon Beardy is a member of Keewatin’s diocesan council. The report added, “How much consultation is enough? That is always an open question, and undoubtedly there could have been more. In hindsight, perhaps we should have convened a special meeting of ACIP in December, as we did with the chancellors.” Ms. Bomberry said ACIP was “challenged by the CoGS report” and that the indigenous council felt the updates did not contain much detail, since negotiators said they were bound by confidentiality agreements with the government negotiators. “ I don’t know how we would have dealt with the issue of confidentiality,” she said, but the conclusion was that “they are making decisions about us without including us.” The council felt “we have stepped back a few decades in our relationship,” she said.


  • Solange DeSantis

    Solange De Santis was a reporter for the Anglican Journal from 2000 to 2008.

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