Indigenous self-determination focused on mission over structure

Canon Virginia "Ginny" Doctor explains the goals for an Indigenous Anglican Spiritual Ministry. Behind her are Bishop Adam Halkett (L) and National Indigenous Bishop Mark MacDonald. Photo: André Forget
Canon Virginia "Ginny" Doctor explains the goals for an Indigenous Anglican Spiritual Ministry. Behind her are Bishop Adam Halkett (L) and National Indigenous Bishop Mark MacDonald. Photo: André Forget
Published March 15, 2016

While discussions about what an alternative structure for a self-determining Indigenous Anglican church might look like have been going on for some time-and were a major topic of conversation at the Sacred Circle, held in Port Elgin, Ont., in 2015-National Indigenous Bishop Mark MacDonald said that structure is not currently the most pressing priority.

“At this point, we will primarily focus on ministry rather than structure,” he said in a March 12 session on Indigenous ministry at Council of General Synod (CoGS), noting that many Indigenous clergy are not only under-resourced and overextended, but are sometimes also suffering from the long-term effects of residential school trauma.

In recent years, Indigenous Anglicans have been laying the groundwork for “the next stage of self-determination,” and proposals have included the creation of a fifth, fully Indigenous province of the national church and Indigenous diocese-equivalents.

“We’ve begun to understand the layered, complex, intergenerational trauma that many of our people have experienced, and we have empowered a ministry to meet those needs,” MacDonald explained. “But we’re realizing that we have exposed a lot of our folks to ongoing trauma. We have a lot of clergy out there who don’t have the support of a salary…but are dealing with problems that are very difficult.”

In the same session, Bishop Lydia Mamakwa of the Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh, Bishop of Missinipi Adam Halkett and Indigenous ministries co-ordinator Canon Virginia “Ginny” Doctor joined MacDonald in presenting the “Mission Statement for an Indigenous Anglican Spiritual Ministry within the Anglican Church of Canada.”

The statement declares that as they “move toward full self-determination and self-governance,” Indigenous Anglicans will “create a structure that will allow us to enhance our ministry and healing; and fully empower the National Indigenous Anglican Bishop to freely minister with all Indigenous Anglican people in all of the provinces.”

It also contains a series of goals and objectives Indigenous ministries says it hopes to work toward-including more robust formation for Indigenous clergy, programs to strengthen and heal Indigenous communities, more culturally-appropriate liturgical resources, and political advocacy to challenge violence in and against First Nations communities.

According to Doctor, the statement grew out of a charge from the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP) to “indigenize” the Five Marks of Mission used by the global Anglican Communion. She said it was not meant to “disrespect in any form” the original authors of the Marks of Mission, but rather “to give it more flavour as to what it would mean in the Indigenous world, or in the Indigenous church.”

While Doctor said she and her fellow leaders had hoped to share the draft with ACIP before bringing it to CoGS, timing made this impossible. Instead, ACIP will weigh in on the document when it meets at the Six Nations on the Grand territory March 17-19.

MacDonald noted that the statement’s emphasis on supporting ministry rather than structure is a response to what has for years been one of the most consistent calls coming out of Indigenous communities and from Indigenous clergy: the call to provide more, and better, resources to clergy operating in extremely stressful situations.

Sharing an example from his own time as a priest in Red Lake Nation in Minnesota, MacDonald explained that of the 36 funerals he officiated in the space of a year, over half were for people who had died by accident or violence.

“Just imagine what that is like to a community,” he said. “I had the support of a salary and a structure that looked out for me-a lot of our clergy don’t.”

Responses from members of CoGS were positive, with many expressing appreciation for the document and the direction Indigenous Ministries is taking it in.

Deputy Prolocutor Cynthia Haines-Turner-who, with the rest of the officers of CoGS (General Secretary Michael Thompson, Chancellor David Jones and the primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz), had seen the draft and given their input during a March 9 meeting with Indigenous Ministries-noted that the current draft of the mission statement had been formatted especially to accommodate ways of thinking common to the non-Indigenous members of the council.

“[Doctor] intentionally put this document in a linear form, because so many of us think like that,” she said. “I think that was an extremely gracious thing to do. It had its source in a circle format, but it is a gift to us that it is within our comfort level because it moves us away from trying to figure it out and being able to work with the content itself.”

Hiltz also expressed his appreciation for the document, but noted that the church can do more to help its Indigenous members toward self-determination.

“We need to make sure that ACIP is viewed as having the same authority as [CoGS], in the same way that Sacred Circle has authority akin to General Synod,” he said. “I think we have some distance to go to make sure that that authority is more equal.”

He suggested that having Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders spend real time working together and interacting during a joint meeting of CoGS and ACIP in the next triennium might be a way of furthering this goal.

“I don’t think we are going to get [to equal partnership] until we actually spend a few days together under one roof or under one tent, sharing meals and sharing conversation and praying together and doing gospel-based discipleship,” he said.


  • André Forget

    André Forget was a staff writer for the Anglican Journal from 2014 to 2017.

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