What do they want now?

Published May 6, 2015

Many indigenous Anglicans have noted that this has been the inevitable, if not caustic, response of some in the church whenever they air a concern or demand change in order to address historical injustices, or even simply to make their ministries work better.

One hopes this will not be the reaction when the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP) presents a new draft of its statement calling for greater self-determination within the church. (See page 1.) ACIP has suggested setting in motion a consultation process that would develop a plan for an indigenous ministry in the whole church-one that reflects “Indigenous ways of thinking about leadership and power” and allows indigenous Anglicans to plan, use and account for their own resources.

The statement acknowledged that considerable progress has been made in the last 20 years, including the creation of ACIP, the appointment of a National Indigenous Anglican Bishop and the creation of the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh. But, more measures are needed, said ACIP, noting that indigenous people are “still hindered by the effects and structures of colonialism.”During ACIP’s spring meeting, Mishamikoweesh Bishop Lydia Mamakwa expressed the hope that the group’s statement would be “the ultimate document that will help us to arrive where we need to be and where we want to be.” The level of frustration is already high among indigenous Anglicans. Some have declared: “Have we not talked long enough?”

The frustration is understandable. For a long time, indigenous clergy and laity have spoken of a “pastoral crisis,” of not having enough resources to minister to aboriginal communities, many of which are mired in poverty, high rates of suicides and addictions, and other consequences of the Indian residential school system and the lingering effects of colonialism. Often, these same indigenous priests are non-stipendiary: they have to earn a living on the side in order to have the means to serve the church and their community. Surely there is something wrong with this picture.

The need for indigenous ministry is urgent, and not just in reserves: in Canada’s urban areas, a growing population of aboriginal people lack pastoral care. Some dioceses have responded by establishing urban native ministries, but others have not filled the gaping hole.

Indigenous self-determination has been a long time coming. Its first stirrings were articulated 150 years ago by Cree priest Henry Budd. In 1967, General Synod commissioned sociologist Charles Hendry to examine the relationship between the church and aboriginal peoples. Two years later, Hendry’s report, Beyond Traplines, offered a scathing assessment of the church’s involvement in residential schools. It also urged the church to foster a new partnership with indigenous people based on solidarity, equality and mutual respect. The last two decades have seen the church’s remarkable commitment to healing and reconciliation-from the apology for its role in residential schools to the establishment of a healing fund, participation in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery, among others. But, as ACIP has noted, it needs a comprehensive strategy for its growing indigenous ministry, and it needs to address the barriers that prevent self-determination.

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, who received ACIP’s latest statement, has vowed to take the group’s call to the House of Bishops and to the Council of General Synod (CoGS), the church’s governing body between General Synods. Hiltz went beyond that by asking ACIP to identify the concrete steps needed to move forward. “Who takes the lead, how do we go about the work, who should be at the table?”

This is a good start. But, in order for this dialogue to bear fruit, both sides must have a willingness and commitment to trust, respect and listen to one another, and-when the going gets tough-to remain at the table.


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