Indigenous bishops not invited to TRC closing ceremonies

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National Indigenous Bishop Mark MacDonald and the Rev. Ruth Kitchekeesik take part in the Walk for Reconciliation at the beginning of the final Truth and Reconciliation Commission event in Ottawa. Photo: André Forget
National Indigenous Bishop Mark MacDonald and the Rev. Ruth Kitchekeesik take part in the Walk for Reconciliation at the beginning of the final Truth and Reconciliation Commission event in Ottawa. Photo: André Forget

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) has been investigating the tragic legacy of Canada’s Indian residential schools for the past six years, and last Wednesday, June 3, it held its closing ceremonies at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, but two prominent Indigenous Anglicans who had come to Ottawa for the final events were not present. The reason? Their invitations had arrived too late.

“On the last two days of the TRC closing events in Ottawa, we discovered that two of the four members of the delegation that we hoped would be able to attend…the closing ceremonies on Wednesday had not received an invitation,” said Henriette Thompson, director of public witness for social and ecological justice for the Anglican Church of Canada.This was met with great surprise and dismay, especially because the two people who had not received the invitation were two of our Indigenous leaders, [National Indigenous] Bishop Mark MacDonald and Bishop Lydia Mamakwa.”

Invitations to the ceremonies had been decided by the TRC in conversation with Rideau Hall, and as space was limited and seating was in high demand, the TRC had asked parties involved to provide lists of four or five representatives who should receive invitations, while stating that they could not guarantee a seat for every representative.

The Anglican church had suggested MacDonald, Mamakwa, Thompson and the church’s primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz; while Hiltz and Thompson received invitations in mid-May, it became clear early last week that MacDonald and Mamakwa had not.

Although attempts were made to procure invitations for the bishops through a variety of channels, including both the TRC and the governor general’s office, “the window of time in which to turn this around was just too tiny, too small,” Thompson said.

MacDonald said in an interview with the Anglican Journal that while he had not received his invitation until after the ceremonies had already begun due to a broken phone, Mamakwa-who was having no such communication problems-didn’t receive hers until 15 minutes before the ceremony was set to begin, at which point getting to Rideau Hall and getting a security clearance was completely unrealistic.

When asked why MacDonald and Mamakwa had not been sent invitations, Denis Guertin, the event co-ordinator for the TRC, said it was due to “human error, and…oversight on my part” that had arisen when updating an earlier list. He assured the Anglican Journal ?that no decision had been made not to invite the bishops.

“What was heartening to me was the deep concern that my non-Indigenous colleagues felt,” MacDonald said. “They really said the priority for them was to have the Indigenous part of the Anglican church represented. That was their priority, and I think that was very sincere and very heartfelt.”

MacDonald went on to note, however, that he is used to such bureaucratic oversights.

“The systems are habituated to recognizing certain things, so [I] don’t take it personally,” he said. “I think it’s a measure of how seriously-and again, I’m not speaking of this event specifically, because we don’t know the mechanics of it-but people assume that what Indigenous people are doing is a transitional stage toward becoming like the larger church, that we’re a primitive form, and isn’t it nice that they’re doing that, but someday they’ll be like us and grow up.”

MacDonald said he “looks for the day when it’s self-evident that Indigenous people should be represented at events like that.”

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André Forget
André Forget was a staff writer for the Anglican Journal from 2014 to 2017.

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