A group of native Anglicans charged with bringing native concerns before General Synod 2004 began its work in December, according to Donna Bomberry, co-ordinator of indigenous ministries at the national church office in Toronto.
The Indigenous Covenant Implementation Commission first met Dec. 12-13 in Toronto, allowing members to get acquainted and chart a course for the next few months, she said. The commission was scheduled to meet again in Toronto Jan. 23-24 and anticipated monthly meetings as it works to bring specific recommendations to General Synod.
The group will explore how to implement concepts that have been identified as essential by indigenous Anglicans, such as self-sufficiency and indigenous governance. It will also consider how the church might establish the position of a national indigenous bishop. These concepts have been endorsed by previous synods, although they have attracted some controversy. At a recent house of bishops meeting, Ms. Bomberry was questioned as to whether native Anglicans want to set up a “separate” church. She responded that the situation is comparable to a family, where the sons and daughters grow up and establish themselves as individuals but are still “part of the family.”
Rev. Mervin Wolfleg of the diocese of Calgary chairs the commission. Its members are, with dioceses in brackets: Willard Martin (Caledonia), Verna Firth (Arctic), Yolanda Bird ( Saskatchewan), Rev. Ron Evans (Keewatin), Nina Burnham (Huron), Jimmy James Einish ( Quebec). The primate appointed liaison member Brian Burrows ( Edmonton).
The establishment of the commission was the result of a meeting in Winnipeg last October aimed at healing a rift that had opened between some native Anglicans and church leadership over the signing of an accord with the federal government that limited church liability in native residential school lawsuits.
In the settlement, the church and government agreed to resist efforts by natives to claim damages for loss of language and culture in the schools. Government and church maintain that their funding of programs that support native culture is more appropriate than paying damage settlements in this area. However, many native Anglicans saw the church’s stand as a betrayal. They also criticized parts of an alternative dispute resolution as inhumane.
In Winnipeg, members of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (the national church committee that represents native Anglicans) and church leaders aired grievances, prayed together and, according to both sides, experienced healing. They agreed to establish the Indigenous Covenant Implementation Commission. The title refers to the 1994 document, or covenant, that committed the church and native Anglicans to a new, more equal relationship.