A year after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) released its final report, Canadian Anglicans are using Canada’s 20th anniversary celebrations of National Aboriginal Day (June 21) as an opportunity to work toward reconciliation.
Mark MacDonald, the Anglican Church of Canada’s national Indigenous bishop, said the Anglican Church of Canada is at a “tipping point” in terms of its members’ interest and involvement in reconciliation.
“My experience, especially in recent months, is that this is picking up steam,” he said, speaking of Anglican engagement with the legacy of colonialism. “I see what you might call the normal, everyday parish, the normal everyday parishioners, showing interest, getting involved.”
National Aboriginal Day is shaping up to be something of a catalyst for this movement, with parishes and cathedrals across the country taking part in initiatives to mark the occasion. In 2010, General Synod passed a resolution adding the National Aboriginal Day of Prayer on June 21, or the nearest Sunday, to the church’s liturgical calendar.
A special liturgy has been composed for this year’s celebration by the Rev. Canon Greg Smith, professor at Huron University College in the diocese of Huron.
Smith said that the liturgy, An Action in Solidarity with the Indigenous Peoples of Canada, was inspired by a statement made by Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, in response to the TRC’s 94 Calls to Action. Hiltz called on parishes to read the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) as part of their service on the Sunday closest to June 21 as a way of recognizing National Aboriginal Day.
While the uncondensed UNDRIP contains 46 articles and runs to 18 printed pages, Smith and the worship team at the church where he is honorary assistant, St. Aidan’s in London, Ont., adapted it into a dynamic, multi-voiced reading that takes around 12 minutes to perform.
The liturgy has already been used in the diocese of Huron’s National Aboriginal Day service, held June 12 at Walpole Island First Nation, in southwestern Ontario, and Smith has had requests from other parishes and dioceses interested in using it in their own services.
Hiltz commended Smith on finding a way to make a long official document more accessible to congregations.
“[Smith’s liturgy is] much more creative way than simply reading 46 articles,” he said. “I’m satisfied that people have picked up on it-the things I hear are pretty positive.”
The liturgy is one of several being used across the country. Other dioceses have liturgies rooted in Indigenous traditions, which they plan on using to celebrate the occasion.
Canon Travis Enright, Edmonton’s canon missioner for Indigenous ministry, said most of the parishes in his diocese would be using the Standing Stones liturgy he has been instrumental in developing, which incorporates Anglican and Cree elements in the Eucharist service.
But some dioceses are also urging Anglicans to get involved in activities organized by local Indigenous groups.
Sharon Pasula, Oskâpêwis/Indigenous cultural and educational helper for the diocese of Edmonton, and Brander Raven, New Westminster’s diocesan Indigenous justice ministries co–ordinator, both stressed the importance of getting involved in Indigenous-led celebrations.
“Supporting these [Indigenous events] is part of reconciliation,” Pasula explained in an email to the Anglican Journal.
Dean Shane Parker of Christ Church Cathedral, Ottawa, said his community would be taking these concerns into account by hosting a service on the night before the event itself. The service will involve a reading of the UNDRIP in its entirety, following a song of gathering from Barbara Dumont-Hill, an Algonquin elder from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation, in Maniwaki, Que.
Similarly, Christ Church Cathedral in Victoria, B.C., has also decided to hold a vigil the evening before the day itself. The vigil will include Aboriginal drum songs, First Nations singers, prayers and a reading of the UNDRIP.
“This service is one small continuation on the path of reconciliation to which Anglicans on these Islands have committed themselves,” said Dean Ansley Tucker, the cathedral’s rector, in a June 15 statement. “There is still much work to be done.”
But while National Aboriginal Day provides a useful way of engaging the attention of the church’s non-Indigenous members, Enright noted that events such as this don’t always “penetrate the hearts and minds of the parishes,” and stressed the importance of substantial, ongoing reconciliation work within dioceses.
“How do we infuse it in a much more organic way, so that people understand the teachings of being a treaty people, understanding what it means to be in reconciliation with the population that we may have done some harm to?” he said.