ACIP calls for change in church structure

The Ven. Sidney Black, the Rev. Canon Ginny Doctor, Bishop Lydia Mamakwa, National Indigenous Bishop Mark MacDonald, and Judith Moses from the Public Witness for Social and Ecological Justice Coordinating Committee at Council of General Synod. Photo: André Forget.
The Ven. Sidney Black, the Rev. Canon Ginny Doctor, Bishop Lydia Mamakwa, National Indigenous Bishop Mark MacDonald, and Judith Moses from the Public Witness for Social and Ecological Justice Coordinating Committee at Council of General Synod. Photo: André Forget.
Published November 18, 2014

Mississauga, Ont.

On Nov. 17, representatives of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP) presented a statement to the Council of General Synod (CoGS) calling for the church to allow space for structures of governance that are more in line with indigenous ways of thinking about leadership and power, and to support the movement of indigenous Anglicans toward self-determination.

The statement suggests beginning a process of consultation to develop a plan for indigenous ministry in the whole church, not just in particular regions like Mishamikoweesh, and to develop “an effective, just, and sustainable” plan to share resources, stating that “it is now time for Indigenous People to be given the primary leadership over the planning, use, and accounting of their own resources.”

The statement, titled “Where We Are Today: Twenty Years after the Covenant, an Indigenous Call to Church Leadership,” expresses gratitude for the “great progress towards Indigenous self-determination in the past few years” while noting the extent to which indigenous people are “still hindered by the effects and structures of colonialism.” The statement outlines some of the principles undergirding indigenous self-determination and the steps that should be taken toward implementing them.

It was presented jointly by ACIP co-chair Archdeacon Sidney Black, Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh Bishop Lydia Mamakwa, indigenous ministries co-ordinator, the Rev. Canon Ginny Doctor, and National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald.

In the 20 years since indigenous Anglicans extended “a hand of partnership” to the non-indigenous members of the church through the Covenant of 1994, some progress has been made, said the statement. The creation of ACIP, the creation of the position of National Indigenous Bishop and most recently the creation of the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh have all been steps toward building, as the Covenant says, “a truly Anglican Indigenous Church in Canada.”

But while steps have been taken, the journey is incomplete, said ACIP. The statement identified leadership structure as one of the key issues that need to be addressed. “Our natural cultural structures spread authority out among the people and generations, on a level ground,” the statement said. “This is in contrast to Western models—familiar to us in our relationships with both the government and the church—which are vertical and top-down.” It goes on to point out that such structures have been deeply problematic for indigenous people throughout history and to the present day. “[These structures] are disruptive, in many ways, to our natural way of doing things. The structure of the Church often is in conflict with the way our societies are structured.”

Another concern expressed was the way in which funds allocated for indigenous ministries have been used. The Anglican Church of Canada, the statement said, “must make a careful evaluation of the ways that money has been spent in the name of Indigenous ministry, historically and in the present,” going on to point out that a great deal of money has been raised “in the name of serving Indigenous Peoples,” and consequently indigenous Anglicans “desire to see these resources used in the very best, just, and appropriate way.”

The statement also expressed concern about how the Council of the North (CoN), which is composed of nine financially assisted dioceses in the North, and similar institutions were serving indigenous peoples. The statement described such institutions as “divided in their vision by their various diocesan concerns” and “[led,] for the most part, by non-Indigenous leaders and Western governance models.” Because of this, “those structures that have been developed to express Indigenous points of view…are almost all subject to the patterns and oversight of a very different and often problematic pattern of leadership,” it added.

The bishop of the diocese of Saskatchewan and chair of the CoN, Michael Hawkins, was not present at CoGS. When the Journal contacted him, he had not yet had a chance to read the statement.

Throughout the statement, ACIP put great emphasis on “placing the Gospel in the centre of the Sacred Circle” and of walking in fellowship alongside non-Indigenous Anglicans through this process.

Following the presentation, the primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, asked MacDonald to clarify the nature of the statement as a document in process, at which point MacDonald stressed that it was a “working document” open to input from many partners, including the Sacred Circle, the House of Bishops, CoGS and the Primate’s Commission on Discovery, Reconciliation and Justice.

Bishop Larry Robertson, of the diocese of Yukon, was the first to share his thoughts during the question period, saying that the document offered him both “great joy” at the step forward it represents, and also a feeling that it will not be easy to let go of a ministry he has committed his life to. “I have no idea what’s going to happen,” he said, “but I see this as the future.”

The Rev. Lynne McNaughton, clergy delegate from the diocese of New Westminster, followed Robertson by asking if more time could be allocated to a discussion of the statement in the afternoon, suggesting that members might need some time to process what they had heard and read.

When the session reconvened later, there were many questions, most of them reflecting both a significant amount of goodwill and a certain anxiety about the specifics of what moving forward would look like.

Jane Alexander, bishop of the diocese of Edmonton, expressed concern about the indigenous ministry in which she is involved in her own diocese and the appropriateness of diocesan leadership there in light of the statement’s comments about non-indigenous leadership structures. She suggested that at the next CoGS or the next General Synod a restructuring circle be put together, involving people from ACIP and General Synod, to look at how entities like the CoN could be refashioned to meet present needs and realities.

Deputy Prolocutor Cynthia Haines-Turner, of the diocese of Western Newfoundland, noted that one of the problems for many non-indigenous Anglicans is simply a dearth of knowledge about how indigenous leadership structures work, and a need for non-indigenous Anglicans to learn more about indigenous ways of thinking.

For others, such as Bishop John Chapman of the diocese of Ottawa, a major question was how issues of doctrine would be dealt with, given that, as it stands, there is a hierarchical structure that oversees such matters. He also suggested that one of the biggest challenges non-indigenous Anglicans will face throughout this process will simply be “getting out of the way.”

MacDonald responded to these questions and concerns by telling CoGS that indigenous Anglicans are speaking from a position of vulnerability, and are aware that what they are saying may make people uncomfortable, but that “when we say we are brothers and sisters, we mean it—it isn’t just rhetoric.”

He also noted that when indigenous Anglicans speak of working horizontally and toward the circle, they want to work horizontally with everyone. “We’re already acting more like a circle than we were—in diocese after diocese, they’re relating to us as a circle. We don’t wish to vertically take over that process.”


  • André Forget

    André Forget was a staff writer for the Anglican Journal from 2014 to 2017.

Related Posts

Skip to content