New First Nation diocese for Rupert’s Land

Published June 14, 2012

Bishop Lydia Mamakwa (above) of the Northern Ontario region, will head the as yet unnamed diocese. Photo: Brent Wesley/Courtesy of Sagatay

In the fulfillment of an aspiration long held by indigenous Anglicans in the north, the ecclesiastical province of Rupert’s Land is poised to have a new diocese by 2014.

The 47th session of the provincial synod, held in Brandon, Man., June 7 to 10, unanimously approved a resolution from the diocese of Keewatin to divide the diocese and create a fully independent indigenous diocese from the portion known as the northern Ontario region.

“We have been walking together and now we are dancing together,” said the Rev. Wayne McIntosh, rector of St. John the Baptist Anglican Church in Fort Frances, Ont., after seconding the motion at the synod. The region’s current bishop, the Rt. Rev. Lydia Mamakwa, will head the as-yet unnamed diocese.

“It is important to note that we are not talking about separation here. We are talking about growth and development,” says Bishop David Ashdown, the current-and almost certainly the last-bishop of Keewatin. “A critical part of our operating principles in the diocese has always been that our three regions are self-determining, but we walk together for strength. This is just the fulfillment of that very principle.”

Ashdown adds that Keewatin’s time-honoured practice of walking together in ministry will continue in some form. The provincial synod authorized the executive council to adopt and implement a plan for the other parts of the diocese when Ashdown retires.

For an area populated almost exclusively by indigenous people, the recent provincial approval is one more step in realizing the long-time dream of having a self-determining, self-reliant church of their own, while still walking closely with their non-aboriginal brothers and sisters.

Two-thirds of the diocese lies in First Nation parishes, and five languages are spoken there: Cree, Oji-Cree, English, Ojibway and Dene. Many diocesan clergy and lay people speak at least two languages on a daily basis.

Bishop Mamakwa said she’s heard the elders talk about an indigenous diocese since she was a girl. “It’s going to take a lot of work, a lot of hours,” she says. And while she has no personal favourite for the new jurisdiction’s name, the elders have compiled a list of possibilities, which will be reviewed and discussed when they meet at the end of the summer.

“Some of the elders have suggested using the name of Dr. William Winter in some way. He was a very spiritual elder and a visionary leader in the north,” she says. Archdeacon Winter, who died last year, pioneered a program for training indigenous priests.

The only remaining step in this journey will be to receive the concurrence of the General Synod when it meets in 2013. The new diocese will likely become a reality in 2014.


  • Diana Swift

    Diana Swift is an award-winning writer and editor with 30 years’ experience in newspaper and magazine editing and production. In January 2011, she joined the Anglican Journal as a contributing editor.

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