Nearly four years after his election, Morris Fiddler has been consecrated as the first suffragan, or assistant, bishop for Northern Ontario in the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh, a position arising, among other things, from the difficulty and cost of travel in the North as well as the need for suicide and addictions ministry.
Elected as bishop in June 2019, Fiddler was consecrated March 11 at St. Matthew’s Anglican Church in his home community of Muskrat Dam.
His consecration was initially scheduled to take place in September 2019, he says, then rescheduled to February 2020 to accommodate clergy who planned to attend. But the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic led to widespread travel restrictions and more postponement.
Fiddler told the Journal that before the 2019 election, he was anxious and spent much time praying during a hunting trip with friends off the Hudson Bay coast.After the election, he says, “I was at peace, acting with my Creator.”
During the pandemic, Mamakwa says, four of Mishamikoweesh’s clergy died in less than a year. At this time, she says, Fiddler ministered to communities where other clergy were unable to go due to travel restrictions—in one case travelling to a neighbouring community by ski-doo to preside at the funeral of a clergy member.
“The past three years, God has made a way for me to travel in northern Ontario when other priests couldn’t travel,” Fiddler says. “During the past three years my faith has grown, my faith in the Creator, because I’ve seen a lot of hard times that people face.
“I’ve been prepared. So I’m not anxious about anything.”
Mamakwa says another factor in the delay was negotiations with a local business—Big Beaver House Contracting, owned by Mamakwa’s community of Kingfisher Lake First Nation and neighbouring Wunnumin Lake First Nation—that had offered to provide a stipend for Fiddler, who also works as a mental health counsellor and served as a priest for nearly 30 years. Fiddler has not yet received the stipend, Mamakwa says, but the agreement is in place.
Mishamikoweesh now has two suffragan bishops; Larry Isaiah Beardy is suffragan for the Northern Manitoba area mission. The ministry of presence they provide, Mamakwa says, is important in remote Northern communities that face issues such as suicide and addictions, and where vast distances and poor infrastructure make travel difficult.
“In the North, we have no roads, no highways,” Mamakwa says. “It’s unlike Toronto where you just get into a car and drive an hour to go see a parish or community … A 15-minute ride by plane can cost almost $1,500 now, one-way. That’s why we need a lot of help.”
Clergy in Mishamikoweesh are also restricted in what they can do via Zoom or phone, Mamakwa says. “Not everyone is computer literate, so we’re very limited to how much we can do anything online … We used to do some teleconferences with the clergy. But even then that was challenging because elderly clergy needed help to call in.”
“What’s important is despite all these challenges and suffering that our people endure, they hold on to the faith that they have in God our Creator,” she adds. “That is why they want someone to visit them in their communities, because they want the services. They want the communion, they want the baptisms, all the sacraments that we do … They need those.”
Morris Fiddler is the brother of Alvin Fiddler, former grand chief of northern Ontario’s Nishnawbe Aski Nation. In 2017 Alvin Fiddler said the recent suicides of two 12-year-old girls, among other similar incidents, were due to intergenerational trauma caused by former Anglican priest Ralph Rowe’s sexual abuse.