Beardy quits as Keewatin bishop

Published September 1, 2001

Bishop Gordon Beardy embraces Archbishop Michael Peers after absolving the church for its role in running residential schools.

Bishop Gordon Beardy of the diocese of Keewatin has resigned, effective last month.

The resignation came as a shock to many indigenous and non-indigenous Anglicans, who viewed Bishop Beardy, 51, as a rising light in the church, a bishop equally comfortable with natives and whites, with a humorous self-deprecating style combined with profound wisdom and a declared passion for healing and reconciliation among natives and whites.

Only two weeks before announcing his resignation, Bishop Beardy moved General Synod members to tears with a historic and emotional acceptance of Archbishop Michael Peers’s 1993 apology to the church’s native people for abuse they suffered in residential schools.

Though always passionate about native issues, Bishop Beardy could be equally effective on other matters. During a presentation on sexuality earlier at General Synod, he said he had never believed that homosexuality was an issue in his diocese until a family with a lesbian daughter came to see him.

He said he is now trying to understand the injustice gay people are feeling and has prayed that he’ll understand how to minister to them.

Bishop Beardy, an Oji-Cree, who attended a residential school for a year before begging his parents not to send him back, has been preaching forgiveness and reconciliation among native and white people for several years.

He was ordained deacon in 1989, priested in 1990 and consecrated bishop in 1993. He served as suffragan until 1996, when he was elected diocesan bishop, the first aboriginal person so elected in Canada. About half of the diocese is aboriginal.

One of Canada’s largest, the diocese of Keewatin covers 482,790 square kilometres and stretches over parts of northwestern Ontario and eastern Manitoba.

In a letter announcing the resignation to other bishops, Archbishop Peers, said the dynamics of village life in Keewatin have called Bishop Beardy “to serve God in a different way?and Gordon wishes to accept it as he has all the other calls from God in his life.”

Bishop Beardy is known for his trip to Burnt Church, N.B. last September, to lend his support to Mi’kmaq who were engaged in a bitter dispute with the federal government and non-native fishers over lobsters.

In 1997 and 1998 he participated in a historic two-part 6,500-kilometre “Sacred Walk for Healing” with a score of other indigenous people from the diocese of Keewatin to publicize the need for understanding and forgiveness between native and non-native people in Canada.

Keewatin executive archdeacon David Ashdown said the bishop’s resignation was “not a sudden move. He has been thinking about it for some time.”

Bishop Beardy, a father of seven, three of whom are still at home, has not been available for interviews.

Mr. Ashdown, who stepped in as commissary (temporary replacement) pending an electoral synod, said Bishop Beardy had been “feeling very deeply the separation from his family and community.”

His own community of Muskrat Dam, 500 kilometres away from the diocesan office, can only be reached by air in the summer and winter road in the winter, Mr. Ashdown said.

“Community is very important to the native people,” he added. “In the bishop’s own community of 250 people, there have been three suicides in the last three months.”

Bishop Beardy feels called to other ministries, noted Mr. Ashdown. “He said ‘I believe I am being called’ to do something else, but what that is, he doesn’t yet know. This is very much the aboriginal way of doing things.”

Shortly after announcing his resignation, Bishop Beardy was narrowly defeated in an election for chief of his home reserve band.


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