As Canada celebrates National Aboriginal Day today, June 21, Anglican church leaders urged Canadian Anglicans to pause and reflect on its significance for the life of their church and the nation.
Archbishop Fred Hiltz urged the faithful to remember it as “a call to repentance and renewal, healing and hope, the new love and the new life to which Christ calls us.” In a statement, the primate of the Anglican Church of Canada said, “Walking with indigenous people is a high priority for our church.”
June 21 was officially declared National Aboriginal Day in 1996, nearly 14 years after the National Indian Brotherhood (now the Assembly of First Nations) called for a day to be recognized as National Aboriginal Solidarity Day.
In 1971, the Anglican Church of Canada’s General Synod declared June 21 as a “National Indian Day of Prayer.” It noted that “the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, falls on June 21,” and this was also “for generations…a sacred day for many aboriginal people on which they celebrated their culture and heritage.”
Hiltz noted that nearly 20 years ago, then-primate Archbishop Michael Peers had offered an apology to indigenous people “for our part in the sad legacy of the Indian Residential Schools in Canada, from our complicity with a federal government apology of assimilation of First Nations peoples of this land, to the abuse of children in the schools.” The apology “set our church on the course of a long journey of healing and reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples and to that journey we remain deeply committed,” added Hiltz.
He cited the church’s support for community-based healing projects through the Anglican Healing Fund, its active engagement and support for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, and its General Synod’s decision in 2010 to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery and to support the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald, for his part, noted how the meaning of National Aboriginal Day “grows in grace and urgency every year; though we can see some things moving ahead, we immediately realize how much needs to be done.”
In a eucharist held at the Chapel of the Holy Apostles, at the church’s national office in Toronto, MacDonald said June 21 offered a lesson on the “inevitability of God’s justice.” To be a Christian, he said in his homily, “is to know that whatever it may look like now, right will triumph.” This hope has been “dear to the heart of aboriginal elders and has always been a source of [their] patience over the years.”
MacDonald paid tribute to the late Elijah Harper, an Ojibwa-Cree chief and Manitoba MP, who in 1990 famously helped defeat the Meech Lake constitutional accord, saying it ignored indigenous rights.
“The most important thing that he did and said is yet to be revealed. It awaits a future, when we have a capacity to hear its truth,” said MacDonald. “What he said that was so important is the idea that when Canada began, it began as a dream of three different peoples.” Harper believed, added MacDonald, that the original founding vision of Canada was expressed by the elders: “This land was big enough, great enough to allow the First Nations people to welcome other peoples and nations into a land so that it could be an even greater nation and a much better world for our children and grandchildren.”
When Harper said “no” to the Meech Lake accord, he said he couldn’t say yes “because it was a lie; there were three, not two, founding nations,” said MacDonald.
MacDonald drew parallels between Harper and the late Martin Luther King, who he said has also helped inspire many indigenous people in their struggle for justice. In King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, he “not only identified what had been wrong, but he allowed a positive future to emerge for all people,” said MacDonald.
Meanwhile, in other National Aboriginal Day commemorations, Bishop Donald Phillips will represent the Anglican Church of Canada at the signing ceremony today for the National Research Centre on Residential Schools. The University of Manitoba has been chosen by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada as the host site for the NRC.
The establishment of the NRC is in keeping with the mandate of the TRC, which was created as part of the revised 2007 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement involving the federal government, residential school survivors and churches that managed these schools. For more than 150 years, about 180,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children were removed from their homes and sent to federally funded schools managed by Anglican, Catholic, Presbyterian and United churches. There were students who suffered physical, emotional and sexual abuse in these schools.
“The NRC will be a permanent resource to educate all Canadians on what happened within the residential schools,” said the TRC when it issued a call for submissions for hosting the NRC. The NRC will “ensure that a national memory is preserved and recognized for future generations of all Canadians.”