Port Elgin, Ont.
In June this year, Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) presented 94 Calls to Action in response to the damage done to Indigenous communities by the Indian residential school program. But which of these calls resonated most deeply with Indigenous Anglicans?
A plenary session at the eighth National Anglican Sacred Circle, being held here August 16-22, sought to answer this question by asking Indigenous members of the Anglican Church of Canada to gather in small “listening groups” to rank the Calls to Action from most important to least important.
The results, which will take the form of listening reports, will not be available until after Sacred Circle is finished. Conversations with the participants suggests there is a great deal of initial agreement that issues such as language and culture, child welfare and education are the most important.
Shilo Clark from the diocese of Calgary, a youth representative, said his group’s thoughts were “very congruent” regarding which calls were the most urgent, but was slightly critical of the language in which the exercise was framed.
“I don’t like the [phrase] ‘of high importance.’ I do like the [phrase] ‘of high priority,’ ” he said, pointing out that while creating Indigenous museums is important, it should not be as high a priority as child welfare, which his group unequivocally cited as being one of the most pressing issues facing Indigenous people.
Not everyone, however, felt the same sense of congruity. Marjorie Mark, from the diocese of Moosenee in northern Quebec, said that within her own group there were pronounced differences in priorities, based on the different contexts of different regions.
“Most of the group that I was with were from out west,” she said. “Their issues are quite different from our situation. They say that they should have more local control of the child welfare services [and] health services, whereas where I come from we have… what they call the Cree Health Board.”
Mark, a retired teacher with over 20 years experience, listed education-and especially the funding of education-as the most pressing concern.
“We hear a lot of times that ‘the Aboriginals are always given a lot of money.’ Yeah, they give us money, but it’s spread out to a lot of different communities,” she said. “And the communities are not all the same size, so usually what I see is the bigger ones get more money even though the little community needs the money for more supportive programs, [such as] suicide prevention.”
The TRC’s Calls to Action are directed at all levels of government, churches, civil society institutions and the Canadian public to take concrete steps toward reconciliation by addressing the disadvantages still faced by Indigenous peoples as a consequence of the Indian residential school system.
Some of these Calls to Action were aimed solely at one body or another- for example, the call for churches to acknowledge the legitimacy of Indigenous spirituality -but others address Canadians more broadly.
Henriette Thompson-who has co-ordinated the Anglican Church of Canada’s participation in the truth and reconciliation process at the national, regional and community events for the past six years-introduced the ranking process by stressing that the Calls to Action are an important guide for the church’s own action.
“It’s the kind of document that needs to be taken very seriously,” said Thompson, who is the church’s director of public witness for social and ecological justice, “and one which, in the words of our national Indigenous Anglican bishop and our primate and leaders across the church, is going to become a serious map for our work and for our commitments.”
So, how optimistic are Indigenous Anglicans about the possibility that the 94 Calls to Action will be a map that actually brings them to a more equal, more reconciled future?
“It’s going to be a lot of work,” Mark said. “[There] has to be teamwork. Everybody-the church, the different institutions, the different Aboriginal groups-they all have to work together. Nobody should say from the higher levels, ‘You have to do it this way.’ It has to come from the people that were affected, that are still affected by the residential schools.”
Clark was slightly more acerbic: “I am optimistic-I am cautiously optimistic. It’s going to take a hell of a long time.”