On Oct. 5, National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald joined a delegation of indigenous leaders from across Canada in London, England, to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the Royal Proclamation of 1763.
Issued by King George III, the Royal Proclamation set out a framework for European settlement in North American territories following the Seven Years’ War. The document is as important today as it was back then, and this was the message the delegation wanted to impart during its visit to England, said MacDonald. The Royal Proclamation is “an open declaration that the lands west of the Appalachian Mountains belong to the indigenous people and it really sets the basis for treaties and a respectful way of engagement between indigenous people and the settlers,” said MacDonald. “It is referred to in Canada’s constitution [Section 25], so it has not just a long, historical importance, it has an ongoing importance in the life of Canada.”
The delegation, which included Assembly of First Nations Chief Shawn Atleo and chiefs from across Canada, had hoped to meet with a member of the Royal Family during the visit, “but it didn’t happen, presumably because the Canadian government didn’t want it to happen,” said MacDonald in an interview. The group had a chance to meet with Canada’s High Commissioner to the UK, Gordon Campbell, and was hosted twice at Canada House.
On Oct. 7, the anniversary date of the proclamation, the delegation offered speeches and a pipe ceremony at Green Park, near Buckingham Palace, which is one of London’s eight Royal Parks. The proclamation’s most important feature is that “it sees indigenous people of the Americas as sovereign people in their various tribal and national groupings and treats them with respect,” said MacDonald. “It also recognizes the primary relationship that these nations have with the land – a recognition that the land is indigenous.” It is the exact opposite of the Doctrine of Discovery, which states that “there’s nothing of consequence in the culture of indigenous people, so the land belongs to whoever discovers it,” he added.
Canada commemorated the anniversary of the proclamation in various ways – from protests organized by the activist group, Idle No More, to formal speeches by government leaders.
Governor General David Johnston underscored the importance of the proclamation, saying it is “part of the legal foundation of Canada. It is enshrined in our constitution, and it sets out a framework of values that have given us a navigational map over the course of the past two-and-a-half centuries.”
Johnston added: “Its guiding principles-of peace, fairness and respect-established the tradition of treaty-making, laid the basis for the recognition of First Nations rights, and defined the relationship between First Nations peoples and the Crown.”
MacDonald said he and other church leaders were invited to join the delegation in recognition of the churches’ role in treaty-making relationships between indigenous people and the Crown. Leona Moses, an elder from the Six Nations, in Ontario, and a member of the Anglican diocese of Huron, joined MacDonald in the trip that also included representatives from the Mennonite Church and Christian Peacemaker Teams.
He and Moses accepted the invitation “in the hopes of underlining that very important relationship with the church in treaty making and honouring the treaties,” said MacDonald. “I don’t think it’s ever been disputed that the church played a key role in the treaty-making process” because in many cases, it had a prior relationship with tribes.”
MacDonald said he has heard indigenous people say quite often that “they can’t imagine that their ancestors would have agreed to the treaties without the churches’ role” since treaties and agreements were often viewed in a spiritual context.
In many cases, churches talked a lot of tribes into entering treaties “and part of the pitch was that it was not just a good thing for you, but that we will stand with you in this relationship,” he said. Churches have reneged on this commitment, particularly with respect to its involvement in Indian residential schools, but “it’s still a moral obligation that the churches have and we wanted to show our respect and honour for that,” said MacDonald.