Indigenous Anglican leaders stated at a recent meeting of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP) that they hope their most recent call for greater self-determination to be the last one needed.
“My hope is that this document will be the ultimate document that will help us to arrive where we need to be and where we want to be,” said Bishop Lydia Mamakwa of the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh. “We hope that there will be no need for another statement to address our concerns, our needs.”
The statement, titled “Where We Are Today: Twenty Years after the Covenant, an Indigenous Call to Church Leadership,” was presented to Council of General Synod (CoGS) in November and has already led to some discussion among the council and at the House of Bishops. Feedback from those discussions has led to a new draft, which ACIP presented to Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, during ACIP’s annual meeting on March 20 at the Six Nations territory in Ohsweken, Ont.
Hiltz joined the meeting for a day, as did the Rev. Laurette Glasgow, the Canadian church’s special advisor for government relations.
“We know that some things we said got people’s backs up,” said Mark MacDonald, National Indigenous Anglican Bishop. Changes have been made in the language and tenor of the text, he said. “We wanted to say things in a winning way so that people would not be put off by the language. We didn’t always understand what would put people off—we have a better idea now, having given it to a number of people.”
The call affirms the commitment laid out in previous statements such as the Mississauga Declaration of 2011, the Pinawa Declaration of 2005 and the Covenant of 1994 to walk alongside the Anglican Church of Canada, but to have self-determination within it. While ACIP recognized the progress that has been made—the creation of the office of National Indigenous Anglican Bishop, for example—many of the members spoke passionately to the primate of the barriers to self-determination that remain.
One of the key barriers, many ACIP members suggested, was the bishops. Freda Lepine, of the diocese of Brandon, noted that bishops were not consistently accommodating of indigenous needs or co-operative with indigenous leadership across the Canadian church. “Some are co-operative, others aren’t,” she said. “I think that is an ongoing thing—I don’t know whether it’s the fact that racism still exists, or that they still don’t understand what we’re trying to do. We need to evaluate that, and where we stand relative to that.”
The Rev. Chris Harper, of the diocese of Algoma, spoke of this as well. “I want to name and recognize not the elephant, but the bear in the room,” he said, “and that is, from our own experience, for each and every one of us in our own diocese, it’s always our bishops. I know our statement will be well-received by CoGS…because I understand CoGS and I know their voice—they are wonderfully receptive people—but I know where the rubber hits the road also, and that’s with the bishops.”
Harper also noted that the slowness of the process has made his relationship to his indigenous constituents sometimes difficult. “We have been sitting at the council fire for long enough,” he said. “The frustration and the discouragement of the wider community of peoples that we are given voice for as we sit here…sometimes we have to go back and say, ‘just a little while longer,’ and the people themselves sometimes express back to us their frustration: ‘have we not talked long enough?’ ”
Hiltz was receptive to the council’s comments. “My heart is with you,” he said. “I can feel and I can identify with some of the frustration that I hear coming out in terms of, how many more appeals do we have to make? I will do my part to try and make sure that there is sufficient time and space on agendas for the House of Bishops and CoGS to have serious engagement with this document.”
Hiltz did, however, have a few questions of his own, mostly regarding how to concretely move forward. “Who picks up this piece, who takes the lead, how do we go about the work, who should be at the table? Those are the next important steps for me,” he said, suggesting that ACIP or some of ACIP’s leadership should meet with representatives from CoGS and the House of Bishops before their meetings in spring. The House of Bishops is scheduled to meet April 13 to 17 and CoGS, May 1 to 3.
ACIP co-chair Archdeacon Sidney Black said in a follow-up interview that he felt the meetings went well and expressed optimism that things would move forward.
“I’m not surprised that there’s the reaction coming out of the House of Bishops and of CoGS when something new comes on the agenda,” said Black, “and I think folks need the opportunity to ruminate on what the call is, and what it is that indigenous folks are asking for. It would be unusual if there was concurrence right away.”