Keewatin paves way for native diocese

Published April 1, 2008

The diocese of Keewatin, at its synod on March 1, passed resolutions paving the way for the creation of an area ministry in the predominantly aboriginal parishes of northern Manitoba and a self-determining native diocese in northern Ontario.

David Ashdown, the diocesan bishop of Keewatin, said that “there was a good feeling” at the synod held Feb. 28 to March 2 in Pinawa, Man. “The three resolutions concerning northern Ontario passed unanimously. One (synod member) voted against (the resolution regarding) northern Manitoba not because of the concept but because of concerns about the process,” said Bishop Ashdown.

The neighbouring diocese of Brandon will also present the proposal for an area ministry in northern Manitoba when its synod meets in October, since some of its parishes would be incorporated in the proposed structure.

Both proposals, which include the creation of two new episcopal (bishops) positions, require the concurrence of a meeting of the provincial synod of the Ecclesiastical (church) Province of Rupert’s Land, as well as one meeting of General Synod, the governing body of the Anglican Church of Canada.

Bishop Ashdown said that the proposals to modify the structures of the diocese were in response to its changing needs, the desire to carry out its mission better, and to fulfill its commitment to self-determination for native Anglicans.

“This was very much a historic day for us,” said Bishop Ashdown in a telephone interview. “About 40 years ago, the General Synod received the Hendry report which transformed the face of the Anglican Church of Canada. We, in the diocese of Keewatin, feel that 40 years from now, what we have done now will also have a profound effect on the church.” (In 1967, General Synod commissioned Charles Hendry, a sociologist, to examine the relationship between the Canadian church and aboriginal peoples. Two years later, Mr. Hendry released Beyond Traplines, which provided first-hand accounts of the sad experiences by former students who attended residential schools. The report also urged the church to develop a new partnership with native people based on solidarity, equality and mutual respect.)

Bishop Ashdown noted that four native chiefs were present at the synod to express their support for the proposals. The national Anglican indigenous bishop, Mark MacDonald, also attended the synod and was given full member status at the gathering, which allowed him to cast a vote.

The working group involved in the proposals for northern Ontario is expected to meet soon “to begin the process of moving into the next phase” including further consultations with affected communities, said Bishop Ashdown. Consultations would likewise be conducted with the metropolitan (area archbishop) of Rupert’s Land, Archbishop John Clarke.

The proposals for both northern Ontario and northern Manitoba came as a result of consultations conducted with various communities in 2007. “Parishes had a common concern that the episcopal ministry was not being addressed as was needed by communities,” said Archdeacon Larry Beardy, who visited 27 parishes from Brandon to Churchill, Man. “People said they needed pastoral and sacramental ministry – from confirmations to ordinations. With the magnitude of the area, it’s just not easy for the bishop to cover it.”

Bishop Ashdown said in an earlier interview that the proposed regions will be expected to be self-sustaining. While grants are available from the Council of the North, “there’s also a need for each region to take more responsibility for its own life.” Archdeacon Beardy estimated that it costs about $200,000 each year to run a bishop’s office.

One of Canada’s largest dioceses in area, Keewatin covers 480,000 square kilometres and covers parts of northwestern Ontario and eastern Manitoba.


  • Marites N. Sison

    Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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