Sacred Circle outlines next steps to self-determination

Sylvia James, an ACIP member from the diocese of Rupert’s Land, speaks passionately about the importance of removing the nine-year term for the National Indigenous Anglican Bishop. Photo: André Forget
Sylvia James, an ACIP member from the diocese of Rupert’s Land, speaks passionately about the importance of removing the nine-year term for the National Indigenous Anglican Bishop. Photo: André Forget
Published August 21, 2015

Port Elgin, Ont.

In 2014, the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP) released a statement entitled Where We Are Today: Twenty Years After the Covenant, A Call to the Wider Church, that spoke to the ongoing crisis in Indigenous communities.

The wider church has received the statement, but the question remains: how will its call for immediate action toward Indigenous self-determination be put into practice?


In a plenary on the second day of the eighth National Anglican Sacred Circle, ACIP co-chairs the Rev. Norman Casey and Archdeacon Sidney Black, along with National Indigenous Anglican Bishop (NIAB) Mark MacDonald, presented a draft proposal for how calls for greater self-determination articulated in Where We Are Today might be given tangible shape.

“We need to start talking about how we implement the statement, how we carry it through,” MacDonald said. “We heard two things [from Sacred Circle]: that the statement could have been stronger, but also what do we do now, where do we go now?”

The proposal drafted by Casey, Black and MacDonald, while not “set in stone,” laid out concrete steps: it suggested that the leadership circle should “immediately” call together a working group that would play a role for Indigenous Anglicans analogous to that played by the House of Bishops in the wider church to “design the next stage of self-determination.”

It also suggested that this next stage could include plans to streamline the process for creating Indigenous diocese-equivalents, such as the Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh, and developing a proposal for the creation of a fifth, fully Indigenous province of the national church. (The church currently has four ecclesiastical provinces: Canada, Rupert’s Land, Ontario, and British Columbia and the Yukon. )

“There has been strong support for the idea of a fifth province,” MacDonald said, noting that the General Synod’s governance working group had already drawn up plans for how this might happen as far back as the 2009 Sacred Circle. “They’ve already done the basic groundwork for what this would be. This working group would look at that very seriously, and with the guidance of Sacred Circle would develop proposals that could be brought forward.”

MacDonald pointed out, however, that a truly Indigenous fifth province would have to include all of the pockets of Indigenous people across the country.

“It’s not hard to imagine how we could create a fifth province out of, say, Mishamikoweesh and a few other dioceses working together,” he said. “What’s difficult, however, is those dioceses where you might have one Indigenous congregation, or those diocese where you have a lot of urban Indigenous people.”

A solution to this problem may already exist within church law, he said, noting that the church’s canons (laws) allow people to come together as a religious order. “It might be possible to create a religious order of a group of First Nations within a diocese that would relate both to the diocese but also to Sacred Circle or a province body.”

The proposal also noted that there are significant problems with Canon 22, the church law governing national Indigenous ministry. It suggested that the working group could introduce changes to bring it more in line with Indigenous practices of governance-especially around the election terms of ACIP members and the national Indigenous bishop’s nine-year election term.

While MacDonald stressed the importance of Canon 22 as a “bridge to a self-determining Indigenous church within the Anglican Church of Canada,” he also acknowledged its weaknesses.

Adopted by General Synod in 2010, Canon 22 recognizes the NIAB, ACIP and Sacred Circle as being a legal part of the Canadian church.

However, the canon dictates that although ACIP members can run for re-election, they must do so every Sacred Circle. MacDonald argued that this might cause problems in terms of maintaining continuity.

“We think it would be best for this working group to look at ways in which Canon 22 could be strengthened by adding staggered terms,” he explained. “In other words, you wouldn’t have a complete turnover every Sacred Circle, but it would allow some experience to develop, and then have term limits so you wouldn’t have people go on forever.”

ACIP raised a concern over the term length of the NIAB, which is currently limited to nine years with the possibility of re-election-a rule that does not apply to any other episcopal position in the country.

As is the general practice at Sacred Circle, once the proposal was explained, the gathering then divided into smaller listening circles where the issues could be discussed and concerns raised.

In their reports back to Sacred Circle two days later, these circles gave resounding support both for the establishment of an Indigenous province and for the changes to Canon 22.

Sylvia James, an ACIP member from the diocese of Rupert’s Land, spoke passionately about the importance of removing the nine-year term for the NIAB from Canon 22.

“We came to the conclusion that Canon 22 needs a lot of work,” she said. “I would like to see an amendment to Canon 22. We shouldn’t only have our National Indigenous Anglican Bishop for nine years; it should be until he decides to retire.”

Going forward from Sacred Circle, it will be the responsibility of the members of ACIP to craft proposals that will reflect the will of the Circle regarding these matters.

Bishop Stephen Andrews, of the diocese of Algoma, presented the bishops’ response to the draft.

“We found it helpful to think about the way that the First Nations community is developing in its self-determination,” he said. “The images that were given us in the draft having to do with the idea of a religious order…were helpful because they are concrete ideas that we can think seriously about.”

He added that the concept of a province has the advantage of being already present within the current Anglican structures, but expressed concerns that it would take “a long time, the way the structures presently are” before such a province could be recognized, “because of the consultation with the affected provinces already in existence.”

For this reason, Andrews pointed to the importance of the request for streamlining the process.

Other bishops attending the Sacred Circle are Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada; Archbishop Greg Kerr-Wilson, metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of Rupert’s Land and diocesan bishop of Calgary; Council of the North chair and Saskatchewan Bishop Michael Hawkins; Anglican Parishes of the Central Interior Bishop Barbara Andrews; Huron Bishop Robert Bennett; Ottawa Bishop John Chapman; Diocesan Indigenous Bishop of Missinipi Adam Halkett; Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh Bishop Lydia Mamakwa; Arctic Bishop David Parsons; Rupert’s Land Bishop Donald Phillips; and Yukon Bishop Larry Robertson.






  • André Forget

    André Forget was a staff writer for the Anglican Journal from 2014 to 2017.

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