Native deacon, husband off to Lytton

Published December 1, 1999
Rev. Catherine Morrison, 28, has become the youngest ordained aboriginal woman in North America after being made a deacon by Bishop Jim Cruickshank of Cariboo, on Oct. 31.

The youngest ordained aboriginal woman in North America will become co-rector of the Anglican parishes at Lytton, B.C.

Jim Cruickshank, bishop of Cariboo, ordained Catherine Morrison, 28, in St. Anne’s Anglican Church in Toronto on Oct. 31. She and her husband, Reverend Will Hubbard, will be co-rectors in a community that is the former home of St. George’s Indian Residential School.

Lytton includes both aboriginal and non-aboriginal parishes. Among the parishioners are survivors of the residential school system, including some who suffered sexual abuse. The community has been profoundly affected by the abuse and, more recently, by the criminal trial of the abuser, and the civil trial for damages launched by one of the victims. In the latter case, the Anglican Church and the federal government were both found liable for damages.

Ms. Morrison completed her masters of divinity degree at Trinity College, Toronto, in 1996. Since then she has worked with the Anglican Church’s national office as its coordinator for indigenous justice. The Cree woman is also co-chair of the Aboriginal Rights Coalition.

“My family’s history in Canada is quite ancient in some respects and very much in its infancy in other areas,” she said. “My father’s family is predominantly James Bay Cree. They were people who lived off the land and who occasionally earned extra income by trapping furs or guiding white hunters and trappers through the bush.

“My father’s maternal grandfather was Scottish and was hired by the Hudson’s Bay Company while he was still living in Aberdeen to come and work in the James Bay region. It was during his first posting in Waskaganish that he met my great-grandmother, learned Cree, and gained her father’s permission to marry. In the ’30s, the family moved to Moose Factory and it is there that all of my father’s immediate family still lives.

Ms. Morrison herself was raised mostly near Toronto in a suburban middle class environment.

“During my internship for the priesthood, which was in Moose Factory, I learned that I can use the gifts of the cultures of both my parents to offer something to the community which is unique and strong.”

Ms. Morrison acknowledges the challenge of beginning her ministry in such an emotionally charged context, but said the opportunity offers “a great privilege.”

There are more court cases to be resolved but for Bishop Cruickshank, bishop of the diocese since 1992, a watershed has been crossed. “When I first came to Lytton, I put a sign in the general store and said I’d like to meet with the survivors of St. George’s. I sat in the circle and listened to the stories. Eventually that led to a healing process, and an apology. Then we were able to find money for an abuse counsellor.

“My involvement in all that ground to a halt when the civil case was launched in 1996,” Bishop Cruickshank told a national meeting of Anglican bishops in October. “I accepted my lawyer’s direction that I had to keep silent (out of court) until the trial was over. My image of myself the last three years is that I’ve been a telephone put on hold.

“But the Sunday after the judgment came down, I went to Lytton and I let them know, I’m back. I don’t know how any of this is going to turn out, but I do know that when Jesus went anywhere, he went as a teacher and a healer. We have to keep focused on healing, and we have to stand with the people who’ve been hurt.

“We will not draw back from the aboriginal people of the diocese. And that’s why I’m so delighted to be able to send Catherine and Will in to Lytton to be healers.”

There has been speculation that the diocese of Cariboo may face bankruptcy in the wake of the judgment against it, and other settlements to come. Bishop Cruickshank says the diocese is still examining its options, though it’s clear that most assets, including many church buildings, may have to be sold. “Let’s not fool ourselves, church buildings are sacred spaces and losing them will be painful,” he said. “But what we’re looking at now are ways we can keep the integrity of each parish strong.

“We have to find a new vision of the church beyond the buildings. And if we face this, I believe we can come through it with a stronger church than we could ever have imagined.”

Ms. Morrison said “we have visited the community before and talked with many of the people. We know something of their pain. It’s a great privilege for us to be able to go, to listen, to be with them. And, together with the community, we hope the healing can begin.”

Bishop Cruickshank cherishes the memory of his return to Lytton, two days after the court judgment. “At the end, a woman who had been profoundly wounded by the residential schools came to me, and hugged me. ‘I think before I die,’ she told me, ‘I’ll be able to forgive.'”


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