(This article first appeared in the November 2017 issue of the Anglican Journal.)
We have just returned from a consultation on Indigenous self-determination. Seventy people, 35 Indigenous and 35 non-Indigenous, gathered to discuss this possibility in the Anglican Church of Canada. The results were very positive.
Now, the Indigenous church in the Anglican Church of Canada will walk into a new day and a new way of being. Not that it was unknown before. The example of elders, the hope of youth and the faithfulness of clergy have all been moments of self-determination. Even, from time to time, the example of the faithful non-Indigenous person, living among the People of the Land, has been a moment of self-determination.
Self-determination is, in other words, becoming what God wishes us to be. It is based on the idea that, in every people, language and nation, God has a unique pathway or trajectory toward faith, goodness and justice. The realization of that pathway and the fulfillment of God’s will for a people is the hope of all in Christ.
Self-determination will not be realized in governance structures or in canon law, though these may be servants of it. It will be realized in lives touched and changed, in youth overcoming despair and in congregations that serve. Self-determination is the flourishing of life among Indigenous People.
There is a will for us in God that we all share—all of us in the Anglican church, to be sure. That there are unique aspects of that will for Indigenous People is also certain. Up to now, the church has described and commended the way this will look for Indigenous People. This has often been ill-fitting and out of place in the Indigenous context. Now, something different is at hand: Indigenous People describing and commending the way forward for themselves.
Realizing that this sounds strange to some, we continue onward. For a few, this may seem like a political movement and moment. We trust that this will disappear when the fruit of self-determination becomes evident.
Bishop Mark MacDonald is national Indigenous bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada.