Land claims are top priority, Crawley tells Kootenay synod

By on September 1, 2002

Kelowna, B.C.
Kootenay’s diocesan synod last June included a rousing talk from a leading theologian on the need to raise money for the church and an afternoon’s immersion in the struggle and history of Canada’s aboriginal peoples.

In his opening charge, Archbishop David Crawley, a member of the national church?s residentials schools negotiating team, said the church is getting closer to an agreement with Ottawa on the issue.

“A necessary component will be a large church-operated trust fund to cover settlement costs. Our church will have to undertake a nation-wide fundraising campaign that will invite every Anglican to share in this responsibility.” (Although the diocese of Kootenay is self-supporting, it is ranked as among the three poorest in Canada.)

In an interview, Joan Bubbs, a lawyer and Archbishop Crawley’s wife, said that Kootenay is characterized by “a very tiny scattered group of people who work like dogs to keep this diocese viable. They are mountain folk, valley folk.”

Archbishop Crawley also identified aboriginal people as a priority in his charge. For the next decade, he said, “the consuming social, economic and justice question for everyone in B.C. will be land claims.”

The provincial government is holding a referendum on native treaty negotiations, a vote that is opposed by many Anglicans. “The …referendum has muddied rather than clarified the waters,” he added. Last April, a church task force recommended Anglicans vote no or send in a blank ballot as a protest response.

Turning to financial matters, Bud Phillips, a guest speaker and past principal of the Vancouver School of Theology, said that financially, the church is “on the brink.” It is both a fearful time, he added, and an opportunity.

Mr. Phillips contended that stewardship is about identity. “The future stability of stewardship is based not on how much can we give but rather, what have we got to give here. What have I got to offer at the altar of this parish?”

Archbishop Crawley said in his charge that the most generous givers in the church “are people of my generation and older. It took a lot of work for each of us to be generous, work that we have not done in recent years with younger folk in the church.”

For many, the synod was a first in-depth exposure to aboriginal issues. Members viewed the Anglican video Walking a New Vision and then participated in an exercise, where volunteers walked on blankets spread out on the floor of the parish hall. The blankets represented indigenous land in North America before Europeans came. They were gradually taken away, as others read from scripts outlining the impact of European colonization and the damage done by the view that non-white races were inferior.

Karen Rinehart-Pidcock, a lay delegate, was one of the few volunteers left on the blankets at the end of the exercise.

She said she felt “invisible, unbelieving and bewildered that this could be happening to me and to my people.” She would leave the synod, she said, determined to find the Metis people she knows and “make a coffee date and then listen to their stories for whatever they are.”

Mavis Gillie, a white Anglican activist, described the work of her 15-member group, Aboriginal Neighbours, which was started by Anglicans in Victoria in 1995. Eight First Nations people are now part of the core organizing group, which gives speeches, organizes letter-writing campaigns, and participates in open line talk shows and in demonstrations for native land rights.

“We were doing The New Agape before the term was coined,” she said in a later interview.

(The New Agape, a top priority of the national church, is a plan designed to create an Anglican indigenous church in Canada, and a commitment to new partnerships with indigenous people.)

“A resolution was passed at our 1995 synod that clergy and laity get involved with aboriginal rights and treaties,” Ms. Gillie told the Kootenay delegates.

“I asked a while later if anyone was doing anything, and nobody was, so I said I would.” A group formed and “plunged quickly into action”, as “issues came across our table thick and fast,” Ms. Gillie noted. When an arsonist burned down the Big House, a native long house at Alert Bay three years ago, Aboriginal Neighbours raised $14,000 to help rebuild it.

Rev. Gloria Moses, of Merrit, B.C., a former student at St. George?s Indian residential school in Lytton, B.C., told delegates how she was taken away to the school as a child. She now sits on her band council, a position she was elected to because, she said, she made a point of learning her native language after she returned home. She works as a guidance counselor in her local high school.

“We are beautiful indigenous people,” she said to applause, “but our youth are still very confused about where we are and who we are.”

Native people do not always support one another, Ms. Moses added. She is viewed as successful in her community “and some of us don’t like to see others being successful.”

She added that with the demise of the diocese of Cariboo, aboriginal people were initially angry. “They were never consulted. We felt misrepresented in that decision.” However, as Bishop Jim Cruickshank visited communities to reassure people, “we began to see that light at the end of the tunnel.”

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