The Jubilee Commission, the body established by Council of General Synod to propose a sustainable funding base for the self-determining Indigenous church, has officially launched a new archival research project on historical funding trends for Indigenous ministry within the Anglican Church of Canada.
Examining how funds have been made available for Indigenous ministry at all levels of the church’s structure, the project will study historical records as well as stories passed down through oral history by Indigenous elders and knowledge keepers.
Archbishop Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada and a strong supporter of the project, says its purpose is to create “a shared understanding of the history around how we have supported and funded and given leadership to Indigenous ministry in Canada. It’ll be taking a look at what the archives can tell us about that from multiple perspectives.”
“Sometimes the history that non-Indigenous people have remembered or been told is not the way it was experienced by Indigenous people,” Nicholls adds. “We need to hear those histories and come to own them together.”
Reconciliation Animator Melanie Delva will lead the archival research portion of the project. Her responsibilities will consist of laying out a work plan, communicating with diocesan partners and working with an external advisory council of five to six people appointed by the Jubilee Commission. The council will include elders, academics and historians.
Delva calls the archival project “a major reconciliation effort” and “an invitation to Anglicans to understand and live into a new story about who we are as a church…. Part of that story is the way that we have been interdependent with Indigenous folks throughout our history as a church.”
Raising funds for Indigenous missions is something that has affected every diocese of the Anglican Church of Canada at some point in time, National Indigenous Archbishop Mark MacDonald says. He compares the archival project to the church’s seminal 1969 study Beyond Traplines: Towards an Assessment of the Work of the Anglican Church of Canada with Canada’s Native Peoples.
Many Anglicans, MacDonald says, have had a “long and rugged narrative of what giving has looked like in the church towards Indigenous people. I think it’s time to get a realistic picture of what it really looked like—what everybody gains from the funding that was designed to go for Indigenous peoples.
“We believe that everyone profited from that work and from that ministry. There was some benefit to Indigenous peoples. There was some loss to Indigenous peoples. What hasn’t been told clearly, I think, is the way that this helped to enhance the infrastructure and ministry of the larger church.”
Rather than “a narrative of shame and blame,” MacDonald says, “the reality of this project is a new narrative—a narrative of light, a narrative of hope, a narrative of truth.”
Identifying historical funding trends for Indigenous ministry was one of the three main tasks assigned to the Jubilee Commission upon its establishment, along with looking at current and future resource requirements for the Indigenous church.
Chair Judith Moses says that the commission views historical funding trends as “foundational” to the other two aspects of its mandate.
The commission initially approached its work from an Indigenous perspective, Moses says. But as their thinking evolved, members came to look at the project as “something that will contribute to healing and reconciliation by coming up with a joint Indigenous/non-Indigenous church perspective” in the form of “a factual assessment of what has transpired in our past colonial history up to present day.”
The Jubilee Commission, she says, also received a “jolt of adrenaline” from listening groups organized by the Strategic Planning Working Group which consistently identified the self-determining Indigenous church as a top priority.
“I think it certainly made all of us much more enthusiastic about this work, and to realize that there’s a strong receptivity in the church for this work,” Moses says.
In moving forward with the archival project, Delva emphasizes that she and the Jubilee Commission support a “decolonized approach” to the research, meaning that “oral history of the elders and Indigenous knowledge keepers need to be honoured at the same level as the archival records.”
The Jubilee Commission has proposed a two-year window for the archival project. Much will depend on how COVID-19 restrictions impact the ability to access diocesan records. Further details will follow consultation between the Jubilee Commission, primate’s office and the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples.
To enable Delva to lead the research, General Synod will be hiring an interim animator, Indigenous justice, for one year with the possibility of extension. The interim animator will handle many of the ecumenical, justice and advocacy duties that would normally fall to the reconciliation animator.
Delva believes that the archival project, in “crafting a fuller story of our history together,” represents part of fulfilling the “hopes and dreams of the elders.” She also hopes it will “signal that self-determination is more than just Indigenous people living into the fullness of who they are, although that is the focal point.
“When one part of the body of Christ lives into the fullness of what it is, it affects all of the rest of the body in a positive way.”