A self-determining Indigenous church could bring new spiritual life not just to Canada’s Indigenous Anglicans, but to the country as a whole, Anglican priest and psychologist Canon Martin Brokenleg said in an address to Sacred Circle August 7.
“The strength of Indigenous cultures is our spirituality. We speak easily about the remarkable spiritual experiences we have and the dreams and visions that are given to us,” he said.
“Canadian culture is less and less religious and more and more embarrassed and silent about spiritual happenings. An Indigenous Anglican church can help Canadian society recover its spiritual vocabulary and its boldness in speaking about its souls.”
Indigenous Anglican leaders anticipate bringing a resolution to General Synod next July that will effectively create a self-determining church. Since this organization will remain part of the Anglican Church of Canada, there’s a sense in which Indigenous Canadian Anglicans are not going anywhere, Brokenleg said.
In another sense, however, he added, self-determination will mean profound changes.
The new, Indigenous expression of Canadian Anglicanism, Brokenleg said, will reverse the “pattern of oppression and dependency” that colonialism has imposed on Indigenous people, and mean an end to their being “passive observers” of church affairs. The Indigenous Anglican church will, he said, “develop its own theology to enhance all other Christian theology,” it will raise up its own spiritual leaders and it will restore “Indigenous Christians to the godly dignity that has always been ours from time immemorial.”
The traditional spirituality that Indigenous people knew before contact with Europeans, he said, was given to them by God, and members in the new Indigenous church can be expected to use these teachings to help them understand Christianity.
“God gave songs and prayers, ceremonies and stories to our ancestors and to us, and we always turn to them first, especially if we are going to be able to hear clearly the teachings of Jesus,” he said.
As a reflection of Indigenous culture, he said, Indigenous liturgy will also likely look and feel different from non-Indigenous Anglican liturgy.
“Indigenous cultures are colourful and vibrant with the arts,” he said. “Our cultures are what anthropologists call warm cultures—they are expressive, artistic, musical and highly ceremonial. An Indigenous Anglican church is a church with good music, fancy clothes and fancy ceremonies filled with smoke and rhythm, designs and totem figures.”
The members of this church will also have to face the fact that they are carrying around an unusually high amount of psychological trauma, he said, and will have to be mindful of their own need for healing so that this trauma does not manifest itself in aggression.
They will also, he said, need to recognize that there will be some resistance to the creation of an Indigenous church, since resistance accompanies any form of change. This resistance, he said, can be expected to come both from others and from Indigenous Canadian Anglicans themselves. The members of the self-determining church, he said, will need to remember to simply “move through” this resistance.
A text version of Brokenleg’s address is available on the Anglican Church of Canada website, and a video of it can be found on the church’s Facebook page (Brokenleg’s speech starts at roughly 55:50 on the video.)
Brokenleg, co-author of Reclaiming Youth at Risk: Our Hope for the Future, holds a doctorate in psychology and was director of native ministries and professor of First Nations theology at the Vancouver School of Theology before his retirement. He is a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, of South Dakota.