Archdeacon elected first Indigenous bishop for Treaty 7 territory

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Archdeacon Sidney Black will be the first bishop to serve the Indigenous churches in the diocese of Calgary. Photo: Art Babych
Archdeacon Sidney Black will be the first bishop to serve the Indigenous churches in the diocese of Calgary. Photo: Art Babych

On April 22, the diocese of Calgary elected Archdeacon Sidney Black as its first-ever suffragan bishop dedicated fully to Indigenous ministry.

Black, who has long been involved in Indigenous ministry locally and for the national church, was chosen unanimously by a group of Indigenous clergy, laypeople and elders during an election held at Christ Church Anglican in Nanton, Alta.

He will be the first bishop to serve the Indigenous Anglican churches of the Blackfoot Confederacy in Treaty 7 territory. Treaty 7 governs the relationship between members of the Blackfoot Confederacy and the Crown in southern Alberta.

While he has been elected to serve a specific part of the church, Black said his responsibility as a bishop is to the whole church. “I am a servant of the church, and I want to continue being a servant of the church for our Indigenous communities, our Métis communities, our Inuit communities and for the church at large, in whatever way the spirit calls me,” said Black.

Ordained a priest in 1991 and made archdeacon in 1996, he has served the church in many roles over his long career, among them as co-chair of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP). He is also a member of the Indigenous leadership circle, and the Primate’s Commission on the Doctrine of Discovery, Reconciliation and Justice.

At General Synod 2016, he was appointed to the Primate’s Council of Elders and Youth, a group committed to ensure the church abides by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

While he formally retired in 2016, when Black was asked whether or not he would consider standing as Indigenous bishop serving the churches of the Blackfoot Confederacy, he decided he had a responsibility to heed the call.

“Within the context of our own communities, when you receive your life’s vocation…it’s for life, so that’s what the folks from the reserve are saying to me,” said Black. “They’re saying, ‘You might be retired, but you’re still with us.’ ”

Black has, however, opted to forego a bishop’s stipend and subsist on his pension as a way of being “in solidarity with those Anglican clergy who are non-stipendiary.”

Archbishop Greg Kerr-Wilson, diocesan bishop of Calgary and metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of Rupert’s Land, said the diocese has long had an archdeacon of Indigenous ministries. But last summer, he began to consider the possibility of making the archdeacon a bishop who would be elected by Indigenous Anglicans using Indigenous decision-making traditions.

Kerr-Wilson said the decision to create a parallel bishopric reflects a desire to help Indigenous Anglicans achieve a greater degree of self-determination within the Anglican Church of Canada.

He compared the arrangement to the responsibility sharing that exists between Bishop Michael Hawkins and Bishop of Missinipi Adam Halkett, who is the primary caretaker for Indigenous communities in the diocese of Saskatchewan.

Last November, the idea was brought before diocesan council, which voted unanimously in favour of it.

“All the people that I talked to saw in it the possibilities of revitalization of ministry on the reserves, and not just on the reserves, but in partnership with Indigenous peoples,” Kerr-Wilson said.

While the canons (church laws) of the ecclesiastical province of Rupert’s Land stipulate a clear process by which a new bishop can be elected, an amendment was added in 2009 to allow the provincial executive to override this process if given good cause.

This addition was made to allow Indigenous Anglicans to elect their own bishop within a diocese that also contained non-Indigenous parishes. It was invoked to allow the election of Bishop Lydia Mamakwa in 2010, and Halkett’s election in 2012.

Instead of having a system of appointments and ballots, nine clergy and lay delegates from Indigenous communities in the diocese met in a circle, and the eldest person present, the Rev. Margaret Waterchief, put Black’s name forward. Kerr-Wilson, who chaired the election, said it became clear quickly that Black was the unanimous choice.

While the provincial canons allow any bishop in the province 30 days to object to the election of a new bishop, Kerr-Wilson said it would be “pretty surprising” to see someone object to Black.

Plans are moving ahead to Black’s consecration on June 3.

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André Forget
André Forget joined the Anglican Journal in 2014 as staff writer and social media lead. He also serves as managing editor of Whether Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The Dalhousie Review, The Winnipeg Review, and the Town Crier.

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