Becoming a family

Published April 23, 2014

This article first appeared in the April issue of the Anglican Journal.

Colonial governments and First Nations certainly saw the treaties from different cultural perspectives.

For colonial governments, treaties were an exchange of land and authority on the First Nations’ side, for the protection of certain “reserved” rights and territories on the colonial side.

For First Nations, I have heard our elders say that the process was seen in a religious and spiritual light, and involved making a family and clan relationship between First Nations and the colonial governments and their peoples. This was to be confirmed by sharing, mutual accountability and a self-determining freedom for all parties that could only be constrained to the common benefit of the new family.

This difference in perspectives still disturbs the relationship between indigenous peoples and modern colonial institutions at multiple levels. Western institutions, such as churches and governments, tend to look at indigenous peoples through bureaucratic and programmatic eyes: what kind of program must we develop to help these people?

Indigenous peoples tend to ask: what kind of relationship must we have in order to help each other?

There is value in both viewpoints, but from a church perspective, the indigenous perspective has to have priority-not only by the logic of our own Christ-centred faith, but also by the promise of this new relationship implicit in our religious, ceremonial and spiritual presence at the treaties.

Churches have often acted as other Western institutions do, importing models from other institutions-government, business and the military-to guide their policies and procedures and to provide measures of value and efficiency. Though this process is well hidden in many of our most basic assumptions, particularly among those of us who are trained and authenticated institutional leaders, the assumptions of these adopted models is the source of some frustration, both for the feelings of many of our members and, it seems, for our hopes for a better future.


  • Mark MacDonald

    Mark MacDonald was national Indigenous Anglican bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada from 2007 to 2019, and national Indigenous Anglican archbishop from 2019 to 2022.

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