Steps were taken at Council of General Synod (CoGS) to heal tensions over the refusal of the Anglican Council of Indigenous People (ACIP) to support the church’s agreement with the federal government over native residential schools.
When the agreement was signed on March 11, ACIP issued a statement refusing to support the agreement and ended by saying that the primate’s signing of it would “not be done in our name.”
CoGS approved a motion urging the government of Canada to pay attention to the concerns of aboriginal peoples in its design of the alternative dispute resolution (ADR) process.
Many aboriginals fear the process will re-victimize their people and should be dramatically changed. Part of the agreement to enter into an ADR process includes signing a release form relinquishing the right to sue the government over loss of language and culture. Some ACIP members (but not all) have concerns about the ADR “grid” system where different kinds of abuses are ranked and rated.
Charles Bobbish, from the diocese of Moosonee, attending CoGS as an ACIP partner, said “a lot of people have misunderstanding about the settlement agreement. The only thing we object to was the timing and the pressure it put on us. All we asked the primate to do was to delay the signing because we were not ready for it.”
ACIP has come under criticism for withdrawing support at the eleventh hour and for apparently criticizing the primate.
Todd Russell, ACIP co-chair, speaking to another motion which thanked members of the church for their support of the settlement agreement, said ACIP met for the first time to study the agreement from March 6-9, and the signing was scheduled for March 11.
“Even though we can say that ADR is outside the agreement itself, it affects the agreement,” he said. The room became silent when he said, “Never was it the case that we don’t support the primate. We had respectful dialogue with the primate.” Then, speaking directly to the primate, Archbishop Michael Peers, Mr. Russell said “we have respected you, we continue to respect you as the leader of our church.”
Archdeacon Jim Boyles, General Secretary of the Anglican Church of Canada, said that the government’s interest “is in getting a system that works” to handle settlement claims. “It’s appropriate for us to say if it doesn’t and won’t work we’ll be back to the drawing board about something else,” he said.
Ellie Johnson, director of the national church’s partnerships department, said that the planning of ADR “is moving very rapidly. Churches are part of the discussion but government is going to do whatever it decides to do.”
If CoGS wants to make a statement to the government “then the sooner the better,” she added. Ms. Johnson and Esther Wesley, indigenous healing fund co-ordinator, were both representatives at the working caucus for developing the ADR model.
“We have vigorously opposed the wording of the release,” she noted.
Archbishop David Crawley, who was a member of the negotiating team that reached the agreement with the federal government, said the team never knew any of the details of the ADR process. “My understanding was that that was another process,” he said.
The government, he said, was anxious about court costs and “anxious to get it over.”
“Our motive is quite different. It is to represent as a church 10 per cent of our membership,” he said.
Archdeacon Boyles said, “As we continue to point out to the government, an ADR process that is unacceptable to claimants will not work. It will be ignored, and cases will continue through the courts. It is in the government’s interest to design a workable and acceptable process in consultation with the interested parties.”
He noted that at a teleconference on April 22, the officers of General Synod had passed a motion that acknowledged that ACIP felt that there was inadequate consultation concerning the settlement agreement on residential schools. It also requested that the primate meet with the co-chairs of ACIP “to explore ways of moving forward together.”
CoGS members also held small group discussions on how people felt about the agreement and the ACIP statement withholding support. Comments reported later included a need to restore trust and confidence with ACIP members, a possible need for training around anti-racism, and identification of feelings of anger, frustration and confusion.
One group reported, “We are stuck in a discomfort zone and need to honour that and work on unresolved issues. How do we have conversations without walking on eggshells and being afraid to speak? We have a fear of causing offence (to native people).”
Bishop Ann Tottenham of the diocese of Toronto, reporting for her table group, said “sometimes you have to be there and have patience for each other.”