Shortly before it concluded its business Friday, August 10, the ninth Indigenous Anglican Sacred Circle offered a number of suggestions, questions and concerns to the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP) on issues including the marriage canon, the governance of a self-determining Indigenous church, mining and climate change, missing and murdered Indigenous women and the opioid crisis.
Sacred Circle is a national decision-making body of Indigenous Canadian Anglicans that meets every three years. ACIP, a much smaller body, guides the work of the Anglican Church of Canada’s department of Indigenous ministries.
On Wednesday, August 8, the Sacred Circle was asked to break up into closed-door focus groups to discuss topics selected by organizers, with a view to recommending action to ACIP. On Friday, representatives of each focus group reported back. Part of the day was set aside for work on resolutions that might come out of their reports, but spokespeople were told they could offer recommendations instead.
One question raised during discussion by the focus group on the marriage canon was how an amendment to the canon would affect a self-determining Indigenous Anglican church, said the group’s spokesperson, the Rev. Tracey Taylor, of the diocese of Qu’Appelle.
When it meets July 2019 in Vancouver, General Synod will give the required second reading to a proposed amendment to the marriage canon, allowing for same-sex marriages. If the resolution passes this second reading, it will be adopted. The same General Synod is expected to vote on a resolution creating a self-determining Indigenous church, which some have called a “fifth province,” within the Anglican Church of Canada.
The group’s discussion showed, Taylor said, that the proposed amendment to the marriage canon is a very divisive issue.
“There’s not one answer, and there’s not one path that can be taken, that won’t wound somebody,” she said. “That’s very clear from our conversations.”
One focus group member, Taylor told the gathering, said the painful debate would mean yet more wounds for the church’s Indigenous people, who have already experienced much suffering. Another said there was a need to translate the canon itself into Indigenous languages, since, the spokesperson said, many Indigenous people are confused about exactly what the amendment means.
Another focus group discussed the governance of the planned self-determining Indigenous church; National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald served both as its facilitator and spokesperson to the Sacred Circle. A participant in this group, MacDonald said, expressed a desire for Sacred Circle to have its own “voice and vote” in General Synod. This, MacDonald said, is a “longer-term goal” for Indigenous Anglican leaders.
MacDonald said the group also expressed the desire that self-determination would not put Indigenous Anglicans in an “adversarial” position with their dioceses and other church structures—an outcome MacDonald said he expected would be avoided.
“What we are trying to do is see change in a step-by-step way, giving priority to the local community and not forcing anyone into any particular situation,” he said. “We realize that there are still some people who would deny Indigenous people the right to become their own selves. But we believe that we will not fight in an adversarial way in any event.”
The group also recommended to ACIP, MacDonald said, that Sacred Circle sponsor a “national gathering of praise and worship, and spiritual renewal.”
Another recommendation to ACIP came from a focus group charged with discussing resource extraction and climate change. The group’s spokesperson, Lorraine Netro, of the diocese of Yukon, said Canada’s North was “ground zero for climate change.” The changing climate, she said, is affecting all aspects of her people’s lives, and she urged the church to act against projects such as the extension of the Trans Mountain pipeline in Alberta and B.C.
“Where is the church in all this? Where is that voice?” she asked. “We need to make sure that you stand with us—we’re constantly standing with you.”
Her group, she reported, said it would like to see a resolution on resource extraction and climate change before General Synod 2019.
The Rev. Barbara Shoomski, of the diocese of Rupert’s Land, co-spokesperson of a focus group on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, urged the church to reach out to Indigenous sex workers. She also spoke out against what she said were judgmental attitudes toward these women and girls; she knew from her own experience working with them as a chaplain, she said, that some of them were working in the sex trade because they could find no other way to support their loved ones.
“They actually are there to help feed their family, some of them—cute little girls that nobody should even touch,” she said. “I don’t understand how we allow this to happen to little kids, and I think that we are responsible, too… Sad to say it, people aren’t coming in to our churches, so if you’re going to make any impact on them, you have to go and walk with them.”
In an emotional address, Shoomski’s co-spokesperson, the Rev. Nancy Bruyere, of the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh, lamented the suffering experienced by many Indigenous women—including her own niece, who was found dead in a hotel at age 29. The police have said her death was by suicide, Bruyere said, but the family doesn’t believe it and wants answers. The church, she said, should be doing more to advocate for these women and to help at-risk Indigenous youth.
“I feel as a church we need to speak for our missing and murdered Indigenous women. We need to be their voice,” she said. “We need programs to help our young people…to help them be all God has called them to be.”
Aaron Sault, of the diocese of Huron, spokesperson for a focus group on the opioid crisis and substance abuse, said drugs were “taking over a lot of our First Nations communities across Canada,” including his own reserve. Many of these communities, he said, contain very little in the way of social services to people with addictions and their loved ones.
“There’s mothers and fathers worried about their children,” he said. “They’re stuck in a spot where they don’t have any answers, so when they reach out, especially in northern remote communities…and they go to look for help…it is very hard to find. And they’re already almost at their breaking point.”
There might be some way the Anglican Church of Canada could reach out to help these people, he said.
In a sermon during the gathering’s closing Eucharist, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, noted the approaching 25th anniversary next year of a covenant made in 1994 by the church’s Indigenous leaders to work toward a self-determining church. He urged the church to continue to move ahead with this work, and with the work of reconciliation. He also encouraged it to reflect on proposals he said he had heard in recent months about redesigning the crest of the Anglican Church of Canada to reflect, he said, “the partnership to which the Covenant of 1994 continually reminds us.”