Port Elgin, Ont.
In a keynote address to the eighth Sacred Circle on August 18, Canon Robert Kereopa of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia stressed the importance of healthy partnership models for Indigenous churches moving toward self-determination.
It was a fitting topic, given the struggles Indigenous Anglicans in Canada are currently facing in their attempts to move toward self-determination. And since the church in Aotearoa-which is the church of the Anglican Maoris in New Zealand-has been functioning as a self-determining body since 1992, it was equally fitting that a representative from that church share the experience of developing and living into independence.
For Kereopa, it comes down to a question of what real partnership looks like. Throughout his keynote address he illustrated his points using an anecdote about his experience of going through Canadian customs and immigration in Vancouver.
“I walked up to the counter, and [the customs officer] didn’t look too happy to see me. She said to me, ‘Sir, get in behind the red line.’ So I looked around, and sure enough there was a red line! So I went back and I stood behind the red line, and as soon as I got there, she said ‘Come now, please.’ ”
Kereopa held up this “red line” moment as an example of how Indigenous Anglicans have often been treated by the wider church, and dryly acknowledged that while this was “one model of partnership,” he was “not necessarily recommending it.”
Instead, he argued for the importance of real equality-which requires real independence-and from this position made several suggestions to both the Indigenous and non-Indigenous representatives from the Canadian church.
“If your partner is standing behind the red line because the government says they should be there, your place is beside them,” he said, addressing the non-Indigenous Canadians. “We’re equal partners, and if your partner is standing behind the red line, that’s where you’re standing, too.”
For Indigenous Anglicans, he stressed that the struggle entails more than just achieving self-determination; it is also a question of what is to be done once self-determination is achieved.
“I think the challenge for you is much greater than the challenge for your partners,” he said. “Where is God calling you to? What does God require of you? How do you nurture your partner to become full and equal partners in God’s mission? How do you seek justice, conciliation and reconciliation? How can you address the needs of the poor and the marginalized at the grassroots? How can you raise up a new generation of young Indigenous leaders, fully Indigenous and fully Christian?”
Kereopa was quick to point out that these questions could be answered only by Indigenous Anglicans in Canada, but noted that his own church, with 23 years of self-determination behind it, is at a point where it is trying to focus less on church politics and more on evangelism and reaching out to the marginalized parts of the population.
He added that this was possible partially because Aotearoa no longer needed to seek the permission of the Pakeha, or “settler church.” Instead of limiting ministry, self-determination has allowed it to blossom in new ways.
“As equal partners, we are far more able to walk together side by side under God’s mission,” he said.
This is not Kereopa’s first time addressing and working with the Canadian church. He spoke to a gathering hosted by the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund on Vancouver Island last year, and in the past has hosted National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald in his own home in New Zealand. Kereopa will welcome MacDonald again this fall when he visits New Zealand in October.