It was a historic day for the Anglican Church of Canada as it celebrated the birth of the first indigenous diocese and the installation of its first bishop in Kingfisher Lake, Ont.
The Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh’s installation service for Bishop Lydia Mamakwa was held in a school gymnasium that had been transformed for the occasion with red and white banners, garlands and a profusion of flowers around the altar. Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, offered the homily. Archbishop David Ashdown, metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of Rupert’s Land, formally seated Mamakwa as bishop and blessed the episcopal chair. National Indigenous Bishop Mark MacDonald participated and offered a reflection. The service was in English and Oji-Cree. Bishops from across the country attended, along with many members of the 400-person Kingfisher Lake First Nation, which is located 350 km north of Sioux Lookout, Ont.
Hiltz began by holding up a pair of moccasins that Mamakwa gave him at General Synod 2013 in Ottawa. “I am wearing them today, recalling that wonderful moment when General Synod gave concurrence to the creation of an indigenous diocese in northern Ontario,” he said. “Carved out of the diocese of Keewatin, it would be self-determining with respect to its leadership, ministry and decision-making. It was a historic and a joyful moment.”
In addition to the celebrations in the new diocese, Hiltz said he believed there was also much joy in heaven, particularly for the late Archdeacon Dr. William Winter, Mamakwa’s uncle and spiritual advisor, a visionary elder who devoted himself to the dream of creating a self-determining indigenous church within the Anglican Church of Canada. “What had been revealed to him by God has been realized,” Hiltz said. He recalled how Winter had wrapped his arms around Mamakwa and prayed lovingly for her at her consecration as area bishop of Northern Ontario Region, diocese of Keewatin. “So what better date to celebrate the inauguration of Mishamoweesh…than his birthday,” said Hiltz. Winter passed away in 2011, but June 4 would have been his 93rd birthday.
“Whether we travel barefoot, or in moccasins, or in sneakers or in work boots or fancy dress shoes, we are all walking this dream together.”
Hiltz spoke of Mamakwa as a “woman of great compassion.” He told those gathered that “she has a heart for you-for your delights and your struggles, your joys and your sorrows, your sufferings and your hopes.”
“On this day of new beginnings, let us strive to make love the mark of our common life,” Hiltz said-love for children, parents, young people and elders, a love that is rooted in Jesus’s own ministry. “This love is not mere social service and is not mere political movement. No, it is the gospel,” he said. “It’s a gospel movement in which we must be socially minded and yes, politically motivated, so as to protect our people’s rights and dignities.”
In an interview with Anglican Video prior to the installation, Bishop Mamakwa said she draws inspiration and strength for the work ahead by thinking of the elders and those who have passed on. “This was their vision. They wanted a native bishop and a native diocese. And I feel like I have been called to start to open up this journey for them,” she said.
Asked what are the biggest challenges facing the new diocese, Mamakwa spoke of setting up an executive council to be a governing body, along with establishing a council of elders. Geography, however, remains the biggest challenge, she said. “We are in an isolated area…None of the villages I look after, except one, is accessible by road, so that is a huge challenge,” she said, also mentioning related financial challenges. Mishamikoweesh encompasses more than 25 First Nations communities in northwestern Ontario and northern Manitoba.
Mamakwa thanked the Kingfisher Lake community for coming together to prepare for the week’s celebration that also included a three-day Sacred Circle gathering, which will facilitate the operations of new diocese in the way that synods serve other dioceses. Her great-niece, Shawnda Mamakwa, told the Anglican Journal that the preparations and event were fun. “I loved how the decorations were done,” she said. The Anglican Foundation provided a grant of $15,000 to help elders from across the diocese travel to the gathering in Kingfisher Lake.
Mamakwa also thanked the rest of the Canadian church for its continued support and prayers for this new church that will incorporate indigenous language, traditions and knowledge. “With this new ministry, we can start to reclaim the indigenous humanity that we were given, and we thank the church for giving us that door to do those things in the way that we feel we need to do.”
Early in the service, Bishop MacDonald spoke about the significance of the event for indigenous Anglicans across Canada. He noted that 150 years ago, Cree priest Henry Budd said, “we would never come to be the church that we were meant to be until the churches were self-determined with indigenous leadership.” MacDonald added that this goal has been similarly moving indigenous people across the north. “It happened, with nobody really knowing that it was going on in other places…It was a miracle that God moved in people’s hearts at the same time in many places in many different ways.”
“The apology of our primate, [Archbishop] Michael Peers, at the time allowed the Spirit to flow into what we are seeing today, but also many people, many elders, some from other places who are here today, and Bishop Gordon Beardy worked towards this day,” he said.
MacDonald, who was elected as a North American regional president for the World Council of Churches, added that it is something that is happening among indigenous peoples internationally as well. “We are at the beginning of some great movement of God that will change our communities and change the world,” he said.
Following the service, the Rev. Chris Harper, a member of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP), told the Journal, “It’s historical and at the same time a significant pivotal moment in our indigenous ministries and history. It is a great step forward that the elders have been praying for and seeking for a long, long time now come to fulfillment.”
Donna Bomberry, former co-ordinator of indigenous ministries for the Anglican Church of Canada, said, “I find it to be a very blessed day in the life of our church. When I think back, this year is the 20th anniversary of the Covenant [in which elders called for indigenous self-determination within the church]…I remember the barriers and the emotions of people across our church at this idea, but we were persistent and prayerfully walked with the folks here and supported them, and it’s really beautiful to see this.”
Archbishop Ashdown earlier in the week said that in all his years of ministry, this event has meant more to him than any other. “We have had to learn to walk together,” he said. “We have a chance to dance together now.”
-With files from Lisa Barry, Anglican Video and A. Paul Feheley