Rev. Mervin Wolfleg
St. Catharines, Ont.
The Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples brought General Synod up to date on its work by posing three questions: How did we get here? What do those Indians want now? What are the challenges?
ACIP co-chair Todd Russell reviewed the formation last fall of the Indigenous Covenant Implementation Commission (ICIC), an eight-member group that is looking at ways of increasing self-determination for native Anglicans.
Nina Burnham, who is Mohawk Oneida from the diocese of Huron and a member of ICIC, said the “colonial period has been a long series of attempts to break our self-determination.” The church, she said, “brought British Anglican faith,” but in recent years, the church has made a commitment to listen to indigenous peoples.
Yolanda Bird, a Cree from the diocese of Saskatchewan and a member of ICIC, said the committee is exploring the idea of a national indigenous bishop. (The commission is also examining the idea of a non-geographic diocese of indigenous congregations.)
She also noted that many native Anglicans disapproved of the residential schools settlement agreement with the federal government, which they saw as contradictory to a covenant signed in 1994 that committed the church to a new partnership with native people. The agreement limited the church’s legal liability from lawsuits concerning residential schools, but asked plaintiffs to release the church from future claims for loss of language and culture.
Rev. Gloria Moses, who is Salish from the Anglican Parishes of the Central Interior, said the question “What do those Indians want now?” reflected the “oppression of the Indian Act (the federal law covering government relations with natives).” Native people want “recognition of our rights free of all conditions,” she said. Rev. Mervin Wolfleg, of the Tsuu Tina nation, in the diocese of Calgary, said natives “want to tell our stories ourselves and want to be able to explore what we hear in the gospels.”
Willard Martin, a member of the ICIC from the Nisga’a nation in the diocese of Caledonia, noted that in Canada there are some 600 indigenous villages and in British Columbia, some 30 tribal and language groups, and he said, “one of the great challenges is regional diversity.” He also said that levels of contentment with the church’s administrative structure varies. “It’s high in the Arctic. In other regions, it’s medium. In Caledonia, it’s considered to be low,” he said.
“Many indigenous Anglicans hold significant anger and distrust as a result of residential school abuse,” he said, adding that some bishops are “hostile to use of native spirituality.” He also said Nisga’a representatives were disappointed they were not invited to be part of the farewell to retired primate, Archbishop Michael Peers, who was made an honorary Nisga’a chief.
Verna Firth, an Inuit member of ICIC, said the commission will meet in October and make recommendations, which will then go to “the grass roots people” at a scheduled sacred circle, or gathering, in 2005.