Native issues reflect a church with ‘a long journey ahead’

Published March 1, 2007

Synod delegates will be introduced to Mark MacDonald, the newly-appointed national native bishop for the Anglican Church of Canada.

Delegates can expect greater visibility from aboriginal Anglicans at the upcoming General Synod in Winnipeg this June, with events that include a welcome to the first national indigenous bishop, the hosting of an aboriginal hospitality suite, an interactive program focused on aboriginal issues, and a commemoration of National Aboriginal Day.

Arrangements are also being made with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs for the first national native bishop, Mark MacDonald, to greet the local aboriginal community, said Canon Murray Still, a member of the local arrangements committee. There are an estimated 75,000 aboriginal people residing in Winnipeg, the largest native population in an urban area in Canada.

In many ways, this will be a markedly different General Synod where native Anglican issues are concerned. In 2001, General Synod identified as a priority for its next triennium healing and reconciliation with indigenous peoples, particularly those affected by the painful legacy of residential schools. In 2004, the Indigenous Covenant Implementation Commission (ICIC), an eight-member group looking at ways of increasing self-determination for aboriginal Anglicans, announced it was exploring the idea of a national indigenous bishop. Nearly three years later, the vision came to fruition. The national Anglican Council of Indigenous People (ACIP) noted that it was actually a journey that began in 1967, when sociologist Charles Hendry was commissioned by General Synod to examine the relationship between the Anglican Church of Canada and aboriginal peoples. In 1969 his report, Beyond Traplines, called on the church to develop “a new partnership with aboriginal peoples based on solidarity, equality and mutual respect,” said ACIP in a brochure outlining the history on the national native bishop issue.

There has been movement in the native peoples’ relationship with the Anglican church, said Donna Bomberry, the indigenous ministries co-ordinator at General Synod. But, she added, the appointment of the new national native bishop is just a start: “There’s a long journey ahead.”

ACIP must now work with General Synod to adopt a process for electing subsequent national native bishops; it wants it to be through a Sacred Circle represented by Canadian indigenous Anglicans. “The Sacred Circle can become our own synod for indigenous ministry, where we bring and talk specifically about our ministry and our issues and how to support one another as a church, how to support our communities in their healing and spiritual growth,” said Ms. Bomberry.

ACIP continues to work with Justice Brian Burrows, the primate’s liaison with the Covenant Implementation Commission, in identifying what canonical changes are required to provide the national native bishop with full authority and jurisdiction for aboriginal communities across Canada. Bishop MacDonald, whose appointment was announced in January by the primate, Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, currently has pastoral and spiritual oversight over all native Anglicans in the country. While Bishop MacDonald may perform episcopal duties like confirmations or ordinations, he is expected to respect church protocol and do so only at the request or invitation of the diocesan bishop.

The task of addressing the issue of jurisdiction would likely fall on provincial synods. “Jurisdiction is the mandate of provincial synods,” said Ms. Bomberry. “We need to make presentations and educate the church as to what requirements of changes are needed for their support … We haven’t been given any indication that this is the General Synod where we will introduce the changes yet.”

But while there is still a long road ahead, native Anglicans have said that the appointment of Bishop MacDonald has brought a great deal of hope. “Having a national bishop will just signal that the church cares,” said Ms. Bomberry. “The church has now identified and provided pastoral, spiritual leadership whose concern is focused on indigenous people’s healing.”

Mr. Still said, “Our national bishop will be a tremendous asset as we move our local ministry of healing, reconciliation and self-determination forward.” (Mr. Still was recently appointed aboriginal mission developer and executive director of Rupert’s Land Wechetowin Inc., a new not-for-profit set up by the diocese’s Sacred Circle, which aims to set up a centre where aboriginal people can access various programs, including pastoral care.)

Mr. Still said that while the General Synod agenda will focus on many other church concerns, delegates have the option to take advantage of the “extra-curriculars” focused on native issues. An interactive event is being planned at Holy Trinity Church for those who would like to learn more about aboriginal Anglican concerns. The hospitality suite would be a place not just to socialize but also to view aboriginal crafts on display and for sale; the suite will also feature the Sharing Mosaic, a diocesan project focusing on healing and reconciliation.


  • Marites N. Sison

    Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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