Covenant is back on the table for indigenous Anglicans

Published May 1, 2004

Native Anglicans will be going to General Synod determined to renew and revitalize a covenant with their church that was written 10 years ago in Winnipeg. However, many Anglicans might reasonably ask, “What covenant?”

There was no mention of the document – a declaration that natives are seeking a new relationship with their church based on self-determination – in any issue of Anglican Journal in 1994. In the decade since, the issue of natives’ experiences in Anglican residential schools took centre stage, pushing the covenant to the margins.

“We were sidetracked with the lawsuits (alleging abuse in the schools),” said Rev. Mervin Wolfleg of the diocese of Calgary.

However, a group formed last fall called the Indigenous Covenant Implementation Commission has been researching structures of native participation in other churches, will present its work to General Synod on June 1 and ask for continued support. Among the ideas the commission will consider are a national indigenous bishop and a self-determining structure within the Anglican Church of Canada. One idea might be a non-geographic diocese of native parishes, said Mr. Wolfleg, who is chair of the implementation commission.

Native Anglicans came together a decade ago in response to a process they felt did not include them, recalled Donna Bomberry, General Synod’s indigenous ministries co-ordinator. The church at the time was developing a strategic plan called Preparing the Way and there seemed to be little about indigenous issues, she recalled. The 30 people at the meeting shared their experiences of church, good and bad, and felt native people needed more of a voice.

In the decade since, the covenant has stirred action. A “healing fund” has distributed more than $1 million to counseling, cultural and therapy projects across Canada. A name – A New Agape – was given to the search for a new partnership between native and non-native Anglicans. The national office produced a binder with ideas and stories about connecting non-native Anglicans with indigenous peoples.

There are now five aboriginal bishops; the first was elected in 1989. At General Synod, 2001, responding to a 1993 apology from then-primate, Archbishop Michael Peers, Bishop Gordon Beardy, who is Oji-Cree, formally accepted the primate’s apology in an emotional climax to a full day of presentations on native issues.

“There is improvement” in the relationship between native and non-native Anglicans, said Rev. Andrew Wesley, who is Cree and a co-chair of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples. “People are taking advantage of the healing fund and I think healing is taking place. The church is listening.”

But tensions remain. Some native Anglicans and church leaders disagree about elements of an alternate dispute resolution process set up by the federal government for residential school claimants. Even the healing fund, said Mr. Wolfleg, “is just a drop in the bucket of what needs to be done.”

The covenant can be found at


  • Solange DeSantis

    Solange De Santis was a reporter for the Anglican Journal from 2000 to 2008.

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