An international group of Indigenous Anglicans has urged the Anglican Communion to provide greater support and resources to help Indigenous churches achieve self-determination and self-sustainability and address urgent issues such as climate change and intergenerational trauma.
The Anglican Indigenous Network, which represents Indigenous Anglicans who are minorities in their own countries, issued these calls in a communiqué sent to the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) September 2
The communiqué also requested increased support for the network’s work, and greater representation in Communion structures, including the ACC.
The communiqué was signed by 29 representatives, including bishops, clergy and laypeople from the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, the Anglican Church of Canada, The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Australia, who attended the AIN’s week-long biennial meeting August 27-September 2. The meeting was held at the Six Nations on the Grand River reserve in southern Ontario.
“We believe that [the recommendations] will be a source of renewal for the Communion,” the AIN said. It expressed the hope that the recommendations would “empower the Anglican Communion to provide effective leadership, mission, ministry and meaningful reconciliation with Indigenous peoples within the Communion.”
It also urged the Communion’s 39 provinces to adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and requested “financial support from the Anglican Communion Office in order to advance the cause of AIN, including the work of reconciliation with and within the Anglican Communion.”
In an interview following the meeting, the Canadian church’s National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald said the AIN has had difficulty getting attention for its agenda at the Communion level.
“In part, it is a matter of communication, and in other parts, the struggle to be recognized is a part of that whole complex of things that Indigenous people struggle with on a day-to-day basis in their own contexts,” he said. The plight of Indigenous people worldwide “doesn’t look like a burning issue to some people,” he said.
Donna Bomberry, a member of the Cayuga Nation of the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy who has served as both Indigenous ministries co-ordinator for the Anglican Church of Canada and secretary general of the AIN, noted that part of the problem lies in lack of representation in Communion structures.
“There is no funding—the networks operate voluntarily,” she said. “Each country has to fund [its] own participation.”
According to Bomberry, the only way for the Indigenous network to have its concerns heard at the ACC is through the delegates sent by the General Synods of provinces that have AIN members. “We have to pay attention to what General Synod is doing in our respective countries to know who to get in touch with about raising issues from our gathering,” she said, adding that the AIN would like to establish more direct connections to the ACC.
The Rev. Lewis Powell, an Episcopal Church representative from the diocese of Northern California, said that even though each province of the Communion has representation at the international level, it is important for Indigenous people to be able to express their concerns directly.
“We could have a voice through our bishops and other leaders, but I think it is important to hear the voice undiluted from Indigenous peoples themselves,” he said.
The communiqué specifically requested a representative to the ACC, and asked that the ACC send a representative to its next meeting, in Hawaii in 2019. It also called for a meeting with the primates of the provinces that have AIN members and requested that provinces of the Communion report on Indigenous ministries within their jurisdictions.
For its part, the AIN has pledged to make the network more open to Indigenous groups within the Communion who are minorities in their own lands, but who are not yet part of the AIN. (Bomberry noted that language is one of the key barriers keeping provinces such as Brazil, which has a non-English speaking Indigenous Anglican population, from participating.)
The communiqué states the AIN’s intention to create a working group to draft a statement on self-determination for Indigenous peoples within the Communion.
The meeting also gave Indigenous Anglicans from around the world an opportunity to share what they have learned and to provide mutual support.
The meeting included presentations from Dr. Rose Elu, an Indigenous Australian from the Torres Strait Islands, who spoke about how rising sea levels are threatening her people’s traditional way of life, and from Powell, who spent time at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota resisting the Dakota Access Pipeline last fall.
Canadian delegates spoke about threat of climate change to Inuit people living in the high Arctic, who are being forced to adapt to melting glaciers and the softening of sea ice.
“When we come together, we really see our similar contexts in a different light. And that allows, I think, for great insight—some of our initial interest in self-determination came out of AIN in its beginnings,” said MacDonald, referring to plans to create a fully self-determined Indigenous Anglican confederacy in Canada currently being discussed.
Powell agreed. “It is good to…maybe glean one bit out of their presentation that we can use in our own individual communities. So it is of great value to continue to have these gatherings.”