Readers get only part of the story

Published October 1, 2003

Next month, in these pages, we would like to tell readers about the Oct. 7-10 meeting between the Anglican Council of Aboriginal Peoples (ACIP) and leaders of the Anglican Church of Canada. But our efforts to keep you, the constituents, informed have been hampered. The gathering, which is intended, in part, to address a very public dispute between the aboriginal council and church leaders last spring, is being held behind closed doors. Organizers said they had met by teleconference and decided that “our meeting is closed, for invitees only.” When pressed for a reason, the group said it needed “space and time without the influence of others around us” and a “safe spot where people can share what the experience has been, create a time for the Spirit to bring something new.” Should you be concerned? You have reason to be. That a council of the national church, with the status and funding of a standing committee, would hold such a significant session behind closed doors ought to be anathema in a church that prides itself on accountability. The primate, Archbishop Michael Peers, likes to say the Anglican Church of Canada has a reputation as the most transparent of the provinces of the Anglican Communion. But evidently, transparency is a noble ambition for some parts of the church more than for others – outweighed in this instance by the stated need to feel “safe.” This is disturbing. One might question what the council has to hide. The diocese of Keewatin, which has a significant aboriginal population, has denounced some of ACIP’s actions in recent months. Keewatin’s diocesan council most recently questioned the need for this leadership conference, which it described as a “meeting of the establishment” of ACIP and said a national “sacred circle” gathering would have been preferable. (A sacred circle is not a business meeting but, rather, a time for aboriginal people to gather in a large circle to share experiences; a circle scheduled for last summer was cancelled due to a drop in funding from a cash-strapped overseas backer.) Keewatin’s criticism of ACIP first surfaced last spring after council representatives met with the primate just a day before the scheduled ceremonial signing of the settlement agreement with the federal government and asked him not to sign; he told them that if he did not sign, he would have to step down as primate. ACIP issued a strongly-worded press release disassociating itself from the settlement and later released a timeline of its version of events leading up to the signing of the settlement. It was those very public events that have strained relations between many aboriginal Anglicans and the church leadership and these are at the heart of this month’s gathering. Native church leaders, saying they wanted to discuss their relationship with the leadership of the wider church, issued invitations to the senior bishops, the primate, the general secretary and representatives of certain church committees. Some of those invited expressed surprise and disappointment that the meeting would be closed but they are, after all, only there at ACIP’s invitation. No agenda has been forwarded to the Journal but the invitation speaks at length about ACIP’s 1994 covenant, which aims for “a new, self-determining community within the Anglican Church of Canada,” a “truly Anglican Indigenous Church.” All this is framed in language that certainly suggests a partnership, but what a murky partnership this seems to be. And how ominous a message this delivers to a national church that needs continued support for its healing and settlement funds. The church has been steadfast in its message in recent years that in order to garner support from people in the pews for its healing efforts with the aboriginal membership, it needs to keep telling its stories. ACIP says it expects to release a statement at the close of the gathering. Be assured, though: that statement will only be part of the story.


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