As she stood to receive the applause after being elected first area bishop for the diocese of Keewatin’s northern Ontario region, Archdeacon Lydia Mamakwa recalls thinking, “Is this really happening?”
Described by friends as an unassuming woman, Bishop-elect Mamakwa, 53, says she still feels “overwhelmed” by the support she has received. The parishes “took a bold step in electing a woman for their first bishop,” she says. “It is an honour.”
An aboriginal priest from Kingfisher Lake, an Oji-Cree First Nation located north of Sioux Lookout, Bishop-elect Mamakwa says the election of an area bishop to serve native parishes is a giant step in the fulfillment of what native clergy has long envisioned. “They want to do things for the church…to be self-reliant and self-determining within the Anglican Church of Canada,” she says. “I want to carry that vision.”
Bishop-elect Mamakwa became a non-stipendiary priest in 1995, at the urging of Archdeacon William Winter, for whom she acted as interpreter. Archdeacon Winter, now in his 80s and a resident of Kingfisher Lake, is credited with spearheading community-based theological education for clergy in the north. He was responsible for a program that trained many indigenous clergy in the diocese of Keewatin.A school for ministry supported by the diocese and the Saskatoon-based Emmanuel and St. Chad now bears his name.
Bishop-elect Mamakwa was involved in setting up the program for the school, which trains lay and clergy for native ministry.
Asked about her priorities, Bishop-elect Mamakwa says she wants to seek guidance from the elders, clergy and community members. She will be serving 16 communities, with congregations that range in size from 100 members to only five. Like the rest of the church, she noted, church attendance has been dwindling. “It’s one of the challenges.”
Bishop-elect Mamakwa is married to James Mamakwa, chief of Kingfisher Lake Nation. They have two grown sons and four grandchildren.