Indigenous Anglicans are building a church in our own image

Lydia Mamakwa, bishop of the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh, after giving a sermon at General Synod 2016, held in Richmond Hill, Ont. Photo: File photo
By on June 1, 2022

—though you might not learn this from most Canadian news media

By Sidney Black, Caroline Chum, Judith Moses and Murray Still

The visit to Canada by the Archbishop of Canterbury and meetings with Indigenous groups in Saskatchewan (See “‘Apologies are cheap … unless accompanied by action’”) were significant and vital steps on our path to healing. We thank him for his apology and for accompanying us briefly on our journey. But we do hope that he also recognized that Indigenous Anglicans have embarked on our own journey of self-healing. We are exercising our right to self-determination within the Anglican Church of Canada through the building of the Indigenous Anglican church, Sacred Circle. Building a new church in our own image is fueled by the tragic mistakes of the past. This self-governing assembly of Indigenous Anglicans is focused on healing, reconciliation and spiritual and cultural recovery and practice.

Regretfully, Canadian media failed to report on this aspect of our story; it is not even mentioned, for example, in an April 22 Globe and Mail column by Tanya Talaga, a journalist who frequently covers Indigenous affairs.

The Anglican Church of Canada has issued two apologies to Indigenous Anglicans regarding the church’s role in residential schools—one in 1993 and another in 2019, specifically for spiritual harm done. Neither these apologies nor that of the Archbishop of Canterbury can ever undo the harm done. The 32 Anglican entities in Canada that provided $12.9-million for the Anglican share of restitution payments to residential school survivors, in compliance with the 2006 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, leveraged additional payments from the federal government to survivors. This was an important milestone. Discussions continue today on further monetary compensation for abuses suffered at Indigenous day schools. Legal action is underway on other specific cases.

Additional Anglican financial support continues through our Indigenous-run Anglican Healing Fund that has distributed more than $7.6-million in grants to roughly 673 projects in Indigenous communities across the country during the past 25 years for healing projects to address the trauma caused by residential schools.

Over the past two years, the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund has provided $500,000 to Indigenous-led programs in language and culture, Indigenous midwifery, water, youth engagement and international Indigenous connections. As well, the Anglican Foundation of Canada provides important funding for Indigenous ministry projects, totaling over $500,000 to the end of this year, for healing and reconciliation, language revitalization, translation, and urban Indigenous ministry projects.

Dioceses also provide additional dollars for Indigenous healing and reconciliation both inside and outside the church. For example, the diocese of Toronto contributed $250,000 in 2018 to Anishnawbe Health Toronto, a health centre that blends traditional healing and spirituality with Western medicine.

While financial settlements are very important and garner much public attention, no amount of restitution can ever fully compensate for the deep harm to Indigenous communities caused by the Anglican Church in Canada. That is why other changes to the structure of the church, governance, worship and concrete reconciliation initiatives are critical to the way forward. These are also part of healing. The Indigenous Anglican Church has recently produced our own “constitutional” self-determination document, The Covenant and Our Way of Life, that aims to restore Indigenous self-determination and spirituality within the Anglican church. Its implementation needs the support it deserves.

We are on the right path. The Anglican church is served by nine Indigenous, Inuit and Métis bishops and many clergy, both urban and non-urban. The Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh is the first Indigenous diocese with structures and programs expressing Indigenous self-determination within the Anglican Church of Canada and is an example of one of many ways forward.

Indigenous Anglicans have produced many of our own healing and learning tools on topics such as suicide prevention. Our critically acclaimed film Stolen Lands, Strong Hearts portrays the devastating history of the Doctrine of Discovery that continues to harm Indigenous people today.

The Jubilee Commission is examining historical policies and funding that continue to disadvantage us and is identifying the resources needed in the years ahead for our ministry. Already some dioceses across Canada have committed to direct a percentage of future sales of church properties to support the Indigenous church’s efforts to redress past injustices.

We applaud all these efforts. But we know that we still have a long journey ahead as we work toward establishing “right relations” within the Anglican Church of Canada. Our goal is not to create two silos within the church, but rather, to develop a robust family of relatives where we learn from each other and where our cultural and spiritual practices are belatedly respected and nourished within the Anglican church family in Canada and throughout the Anglican Communion.

Sidney Black, who was Indigenous bishop for Treaty 7 Territory in the diocese of Calgary from 2017-2019, was named the Anglican Church of Canada’s interim national Indigenous bishop in April. He has served the church in many roles, including as co-chair of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP).

Caroline Chum has served on ACIP since 2007 and is currently its co-chair. She is a member of the parish of St.Thomas Anglican Church in Moose Factory, Ont.

Canon Murray Still traces his heritage from Peguis First Nation and serves as incumbent of the Church of St. Stephen and St. Bede in Winnipeg. He is chair of the Rupert’s Land Elder’s Circle and also serves as co-chair of ACIP.

Judith Moses is a member of the Delaware people from Six Nations of the Grand River, Ont. She has worked in both the public and private sectors, is currently deputy prolocutor of the Anglican Church of Canada. She has served on numerous committees of the national church, including the Strategic Planning Working Group, and is currently chair of the Jubilee Commission.

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