Native presence, issues dominate synod agenda

By on September 1, 2001

Waterloo, Ont.

NATIVE participants and issues dominated much of the agenda at Gen-eral Synod.

A full day set aside for that purpose included a healing service, story-telling of bad and good experiences in residential schools and a presentation on land-rights issues.

In addition, synod members voted to make extra time on the agenda to hear stories of native experience as part of a “planning for the future” discussion.

About 20 First Nations’ people attended General Synod as elected members, but Council of General Synod last spring voted $50,000 to pay for the attendance of another 50 indigenous partners, who sat at the dioceses’ tables and participated in debate but had no vote.

There were about a dozen native elected members of General Synod 1998 in Montreal, but Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP) representatives were observers “in the bleachers,” noted Donna Bomberry, indigenous ministries coordinator for General Synod.

Shortly after this summer’s synod opened, Rev. George Bruce, dean of St. George’s Cathedral in the diocese of Ontario, moved that part of the agenda be suspended to allow “a full and open discussion on the future of the national church” in light of the financial difficulties brought on by residential schools lawsuits.

As debate began, synod members urged the church to engage in a media campaign to put its case before the public as liability negotiations with the government continue, to find a way to continue programs at a national level, to offer pastoral and financial support to General Synod in the event of a bankruptcy.

However, the discussion quickly turned to the residential school experience. Rev. Larry Beardy, of Keewatin, said he spoke as “one who has been colonized ? oppressed,” who attended residential school and asked for “your prayers for those friends of mine who are in litigation.” He added, “Nobody came to them and offered them a hand. There are thousands more out there not in litigation. Sometimes I feel like I’m guilty. What did I do wrong? We seek healing and reconciliation.”

Rev. Mervin Wolf Leg, of Calgary, said he is concerned about indigenous clergy. “We are the targets of our own people. We represent a church that brought a lot of grief to our people through the residential schools. We are also on the defensive, answering people who say ‘Why are you Indians doing this to us?’ Is there any consideration for a support system for indigenous ministers?”

Bishop Charles Arthurson, of Saskatchewan, noted that he attended a boarding school, was on staff and met his wife there.

During the full day of presentations, the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples led a demonstration that featured brightly-colored blankets laid on the floor of the plenary hall. Various participants, representing native people and European explorers and settlers, walked in stockinged feet over the blankets, representing the land.

As narrators told stories of treaties, government land grabs and the creation of reserves, corners of the blankets were folded over to symbolize the shrinking land available for native life.

Synod members were also asked to denounce the so-called doctrine of discovery, developed by the colonial powers, which held that the New World was “terra nullius,” or “empty land,” in Latin and was used to take land from indigenous people. However, the request did not come to the floor as a formal resolution.

The ACIP presentation featured more stories of residential schools, including Laureen Plante, of Caledonia, who said she was “proud to have had an education” and had a positive experience in residential school. The presentations ended with the singing of “Here I Am Lord,” and indigenous representatives handed out little gifts to all those in the hall.

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  • Solange DeSantis

    Solange De Santis was a reporter for the Anglican Journal from 2000 to 2008.

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