New indigenous province proposed

Published December 1, 2008

Niagara Falls, Ont.
The Governance Working Group (GWG) is proposing the creation of a new ecclesiastical province that would allow the Anglican Church of Canada’s indigenous members to govern themselves and achieve “self-determination, jurisdiction and authority.”

The proposed model, which was presented to the house of bishops meeting here at the end of October, would create a province that is not geographically-based, that will be named by indigenous Anglicans, and where membership is “invited, not coerced or compulsory,” the group said.

The group, which has been working on proposed constitutional changes that would provide a framework for a national indigenous ministry (NIM) within the church, said establishing a province would provide “maximum flexibility and control” over how this ministry evolves, and would employ “well-understood structures within the church’s existing constitution.” It noted that the declaration of principles of General Synod, the church’s governing body, provides the governance framework necessary to set up this new province.

“The key is integration into General Synod rather than a parallel indigenous church,” said Randall Fairey (diocese of Kootenay), a member of the group.

Creating a province would mean the election of a new Canadian Anglican indigenous metropolitan (senior bishop), who would have equivalent membership in the house of bishops, and the creation of a provincial office. The national indigenous Anglican bishop might be elected metropolitan, the group said.

Under an indigenous province, a national Anglican indigenous sacred circle could take the place of a traditional synod, and canons and constitutions could be replaced with “indigenous concepts that accomplish the same or similar functions,” the group said. “They could be called ‘sacred law of the elders,’ or ‘laws of the sacred circle,'” said Mr. Fairey. He said that the new province could include indigenous dioceses in the future. He identified area ministries, indigenous parishes and specialized indigenous programs and ministries as existing structures that could compose the new province. Mr. Fairey said that area ministries “could potentially cross current diocesan boundaries but not form dioceses,” and could be administered by the new province with the concurrence and co-operation of relevant diocesan bishops and synods.

Mr. Fairey underscored the importance of establishing the NIM, saying that it has been 41 years since General Synod commissioned sociologist Charles Hendry in 1967 to examine the relationship between the church and aboriginal peoples.

In 1969, Mr. Hendry’s report, Beyond Traplines, urged the church to develop “a new partnership with aboriginal peoples based on solidarity, equality and mutual respect.”

Mr. Fairey added that it has been 14 years since the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP) drafted a covenant that declared First Nations people would establish a new, self-determining community within the church. General Synod eventually accepted the covenant.

In 2001, General Synod identified healing and reconciliation with indigenous peoples, particularly those affected by the painful legacy of residential schools, as a priority for its next triennium. 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, Mark MacDonald was appointed first national native bishop.

With the appointment of Bishop MacDonald, and moves toward creating area ministries in northern Ontario and northern Manitoba, “quantum leaps” have been made towards a NIM, said Mr. Fairey.

It also said it was aware that creating this new native ministry would “compete with moves designed to downsize the structures and costs” of General Synod. But, it added, “contrary-wise, the creation of the NIM is arguably the optimal means for aboriginal Anglicans to better carry out mission.”

Mr. Fairey said in order for the vision to work, the church must overcome “fear of change” and concerns about erosion of authority and influence and cost. It also needs to recognize NIM as “a priority in God’s mission” for the Anglican church and to look at it as “a justice issue.”

The plan, he added, calls for “a flexible financial stewardship that invites self-sufficiency.”

David Jones (diocese of Rupert’s Land), another member of the group, said the group was proposing a framework that is “supple enough to allow it to accommodate and grow.” He added, “We’re just the facilitators and servants (of the proposal). This is something at the end of the day the aboriginal Anglicans will own.”

Several bishops gave their feedback on the proposal, including Bishop Greg Kerr-Wilson of the diocese of Qu’Appelle, who said, “I have no issue about power and authority. One caution I would have is that I would hate for us, locally, to create two solitudes.” He stressed “the need to learn from one another.”

Mr. Jones said the proposal underscores that “cooperation needs to continue, but some structures have to be in place to accommodate the self-determination principle.”


  • 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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