The Pas, Man.
During the first weekend of April on Opaskwayak Cree Nation (OCN), Anglicans and others from across the country gathered to celebrate the 175th anniversary of the Devon Mission.
A colourful procession of Cree dancers, led by a crucifer and a pole covered with eagle feathers, marked the importance of the area as a gathering place for Cree and settler peoples alike. In many ways, the land—now divided between the town of The Pas and OCN—exemplifies the breadth of Indigenous-settler relations in Canada.
Located some 600 km northwest of the Red River Settlement (now Winnipeg), the Devon Mission began when explorer Sir John Franklin sent word to England in 1819 that the trading post there would make an excellent place for a mission. The following year, the Rev. John West was sent by the Church Missionary Society as Hudson’s Bay Company chaplain to the area.
Finding life in the northern outpost too difficult, West took two young Cree boys back to the Red River Settlement, where he educated them in English, the Bible and theology. He hoped that they might return to minister to their own people.
One of these boys was eight-year-old Sa-ka-chu-wes’cum, which in Cree means “going up the hill. ” Given the English name “Henry Budd,” the young man returned north in 1840 to open the mission, where he spent his life teaching the gospel to his people in their native Cree.
In 1853, the first bishop of Rupert’s Land, David Anderson, ordained Henry Budd, making him the first Indigenous cleric in what is now Canada. The Henry Budd College for Ministry, opened in his honour in 1980, trains Indigenous catechists and spiritual leaders to this day.
The anniversary speakers, however, did not shy away from acknowledging the painful parts of Indigenous-settler relations over the past 175 years. As a Cree priest, Henry Budd was paid just half of the stipend the white clergy received. “I can never tire of apologizing for the wrong done,” Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, told the crowd.
Five Anglican bishops participated in the gathering, which comes on the heels of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report in December 2015. Aside from Hiltz, they included National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald, Archbishop Gregory Kerr-Wilson, metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of Rupert’s Land and bishop of Calgary; Bishop Donald Phillips, diocese of Rupert’s Land; and Bishop William Cliff, diocese of Brandon.
“I was deeply humbled and will never forget [being invited to pray with the elders],” said Hiltz about the welcome they received from the community.
For some, the celebration of Indigenous expressions of Christianity marked a return to the days of their ancestors, when the gospel was expressed through Cree culture and language.
The Rev. Barbara Shoomski and Nellie Morrisseau, great-great granddaughters of John Sinclair, explained how their grandfather worked alongside Henry Budd to translate Scripture into Cree and take the message of Jesus to more remote communities in the area.
In a mixture of pride and pain, the women spoke of Sinclair being one of the first to attend St. John’s College, becoming ordained and then having to leave the Red River Settlement because settlers wanted him replaced with a white priest. But they also remembered the tears shed by many when, in1960, his grave was flooded by Manitoba Hydro.
As bishops and elders prayed side-by-side during the anniversary celebration, one elderly woman remarked, “I was so happy when I saw the cross and the eagle feathers side by side. My grandmother said that one day this will come, and now it’s here.”
While the river running between the reserve and the town is, for some, a stark reminder of the obstacles that need to be overcome on the journey toward reconciliation, National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald affirmed a sense of hope for the future.
“We do not have two cultures,” he said. “We are Indigenous Christians.”
Editor’s note: Corrections have been made to this story. The Henry Budd College for Ministry opened in 1980, not 1960. Henry Budd’s Cree name is Sa-ka-chu-wes’cum, not Sakachewescam.