Too much focus on dollars, aboriginal critics say

Published June 1, 2000

From the top, Rev. Mervyn Wolfleg, Gladys Cook and Grace Delaney found their traditional ways of holding meetings quite different from the Council of General Synod meeting in Fredericton in May.


Healing and reconcilation between Natives and non-Natives may be the goal, but the gulf between the two cultures was readily apparent at the recent Council of General Synod meeting.

During a break on the third day, aboriginal Anglicans told a reporter they felt alienated by the emphasis on finances, which seemed to them foreign to the spirit of healing and reconciliation. They also felt the meeting lacked a strong spiritual dimension, and they complained events often moved too fast for them to be able to participate in a meaningful way.

Rev. Mervyn Wolfleg of Siksika, Alta., is not a council member but attends as one of two members of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples. In his reflections on the third day, he told council that the Natives were feeling targeted for blame as the church faces its funding crisis.

“Are we going to be labelled as those who killed the body of Christ?” as Jews were blamed for the crucifixion, he asked.

Primate Michael Peers had referred to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection in his reflections during the opening evening.

“Let’s not pretend this is simply a shift from system A to system B,” Archbishop Peers said of the potential demise of the national church. “It’s a stop. On Good Friday, Jesus stopped. His heart stopped beating. His blood stopped flowing. But the story didn’t stop. God’s purposes will not be thwarted …

“If bankruptcy becomes inevitable, we really are called to be the body of Christ. Dead. Absolutely dead. And just as absolutely destined to rise.”

But Mr. Wolfleg said he believes the church is not the body of Christ. Rather, the body of Christ is worldwide and includes all faith journeys.

He said his people had become estranged from the church. Mr. Wolfleg spent 11 years in the Old Sun residential school in Gleichen, Alta. He too was estranged from the church for years before returning after his mother died.

“When Indian people commend their spirits to God, I’m afraid they don’t want to do that because it’s the last thing they can call their own,” he told council. He said his people don’t go to church but they ask him to perform baptisms, marriages and burials.

In a later interview, Mr. Wolfleg said he felt an indigenous church might be the only way to bring aboriginals back to the Anglican Church. While non-indigenous people may have good intentions, he said he found it wearing to be always teaching them.

With all the talk at the meeting of the importance of healing and reconciliation, “that has dollar signs all around it,” he said. “We’re supposed to be spiritual people. ? When my people get together and talk about healing and reconciliation, we don’t ever talk about money.”

They talk, eat and pray, he said, figuring out how they can get help from various members of the group. “If I told my people when we were meeting about healing and reconciliation, we talked about money, they would laugh.”

It’s also not clear what the church is referring to when it uses those two buzzwords, Native people said in the interview.

“It doesn’t involve money,” insisted council member Lizzie Epoo-York of Kuujjuaq in northern Quebec. “You do it from the bottom of your heart. It’s a process,” she said.

“I feel there’s not enough effort in how we’re going to deal with (healing and reconciliation.) Will we do it in our parishes or across the country? Nothing’s clear.”

Ms. Epoo-York said the Inuit in her community will continue to heal themselves. “When the money comes, it comes. If it’s not there, we’ll carry on.”

“The source of all healing is the Spirit,” Mr. Wolfleg added. “Money doesn’t come into the picture. Our perception of healing is a personal thing.”

The two words shouldn’t even be lumped together, said Gladys Cook, a member of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples. She too went to a residential school in Elkhorn, Man.

Ms. Cook had wanted to be a nurse, but when she discovered at 16 that her years of half-day schooling had given her the equivalent of a Grade 4 education, she gave up.

Now she is a counsellor to her people. “What’s helping me in my community is the church is now asking me to share what I know,” she said. “I think that’s a good start. They ask me to come on my time, if I’m available.”

Ms. Epoo-York said she is not interested in business and financial issues, which dominated this meeting. “It’s like we’re not even Christian people when we go into these subjects. There’s no compassion in it, very little prayer emphasized.”

Council member Grace Delaney of the Diocese of Moosonee said it’s difficult to participate because of how outnumbered the Natives are (two of 40 voting members) and how it takes her time to think through issues. “I do comprehend what’s being said but it takes me a while to think it through. A lot of it comes from my heart ? It’s a very difficult situation to be expected to represent our people.”

A couple of non-native council members alluded to the reflections of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples on the final day of the meeting. “If the way we meet and speak to each other is still deeply wounding to a part of the church, I want to listen to that,” said Rev. Helena-Rose Houldcroft. “I don’t want to do things the same old way if it’s not the right way.”

A statement on healing and reconciliation, to which Mr. Wolfleg contributed, was another attempt at bridging the gap. The statement said in part, “we acknowledge the need to die to our prejudice, to our love of comfort, and to our anger, in order that we may live in the power of Christ’s acceptance, self-giving and forgiveness.”


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