First, the church played a role in tearing aboriginal families apart. Now, it needs to help put them back together, says the primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.
Referring to the ongoing inter-generational impact of residential schools, Archbishop Fred Hiltz emphasized that the church “needs to play a role in nurturing and supporting initiatives that help heal aboriginal families.
“We were part of tearing families apart,” Archbishop Hiltz told more than 200 aboriginal Anglicans attending the Seventh Sacred Circle held Aug. 5 to 12 in Pinawa, Man. “We must be part of healing and bringing them back together and helping them move to a place of health and happiness.”
Hiltz noted how youth who attended the gathering “have carried someone in their hearts, some friend who’s taken their life.”
The Sacred Circle also heard from Ted Quewezance, executive director of the Residential School Survivors’ Society, who talked about the impact of residential schools on five generations of his family. Quewezance attended the Anglican-run Gordon Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan when he was five years old and stayed there for 11 years.
He urged the Anglican church to focus on rebuilding and nurturing families within their communities, noting that members of his family attended residential schools at various times from 1900 to 1996 and had to deal with trauma on their own. “Truth-telling with one another is a hard thing…but it can be done with respect [and] it’s really, really rewarding,” he said. Uncovering the past helped his family to understand and reconnect, he added. “The legacy we want to leave for our families is how we work to understand the damage that was done to us.”
In his homily at the closing eucharist, Hiltz called human rights violations against Canada’s aboriginal peoples “a blot on the soul of this country.” One in four indigenous children live in poverty compared to one in nine in the rest of Canada, he pointed out. “One in nine is bad enough,” he said. “One in four is worse.” Many native communities receive 25 per cent less in resources to support education, he added, and the scarcity of fresh fruits and vegetables have given rise to health problems such as diabetes and heart disease.
Healing will come when government, church and society heed “the prophetic call of Micah…to love kindness, to do justice and walk humbly again with God,” said Hiltz.
The Mississauga Declaration issued recently by the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP) could be “a major plank for…a national strategy toward right relations” among all Canadians, said Hiltz. The declaration “has a life, place and an influence far beyond our church alone.”
The declaration states that, among other things, indigenous Anglicans must act to reaffirm their “sovereign identity as the people of the Land and to revive, renew and reclaim” ministries in their communities. It was issued in response to the high rates of suicide, poverty, addiction and other pastoral crises in indigenous Anglican communities, according to an ACIP report presented to the Council of General Synod last year.
In an interview with the Anglican Journal, Hiltz said one of the “most profound moments” at Sacred Circle was the consensus among indigenous Anglicans to approve Canon 22, which recognizes the roles of national indigenous ministry. “It was just a beautiful Pentecostal moment,” he said. By approving Canon 22, Sacred Circle acknowledged that the church has accepted “the hand of partnership” with indigenous people on their path to self-determination. Canon 22 will be presented to General Synod in 2013.
– With files from General Synod Communications