The Anglican Church has unveiled a multi-part plan intended to help the church continue working towards healing with Indigenous peoples.
The plan, which expands and extends work already being done, addresses five goals:
- supporting the efforts of Indigenous peoples to achieve self-determination, both within Canada and within the church
- increasing advocacy for justice for Indigenous peoples, including land claims and treaty negotiations
- expanding the church’s Healing Fund to increase grants for Indigenous groups designing and implementing healing programs in their communities; and encouraging non-Indigenous Anglicans to address their own needs for healing
- addressing the consequences of colonialism and assimilation policies, including residential schools, in symbolic and ceremonial ways, to provide “historical reparation”
- working to build a new partnership between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples with a long term goal of achieving reconciliation.
The plan was adopted by the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples earlier this month, and will be presented to the churches executive council for ratification this week.
Builds on historic relationship
“We feel this is a very positive step,” said Donna Bomberry, indigenous ministries coordinator, “in that it builds on our church’s historic relationship with Indigenous peoples, and it commits us to a renewed partnership in the future.”
The plan identifies a number of specific strategies intended to advance each of the declared goals. For example, increased training opportunities for Indigenous leaders and funding for community development will support self-determination initiatives both within the church and in Canadian society at large.
The church will promote Indigenous justice issues by providing historical and educational resources to its members, and expanding networks of people committed to advocating for land and treaty rights.
Work in healing will be augmented by increased fund raising, and some additional funds will be targeted to support programs with Indigenous persons living in urban centers. The church is active in approximately 225 Indigenous congregations, primarily in northern areas. Its links to the growing Indigenous population in urban areas have been less well established. The plan also recognizes that the need for healing is not confined to Indigenous communities alone.
Liturgies will memorialize experience
Developing liturgical rites to mark steps on the healing journey, a measure particularly meaningful for Indigenous Anglicans, and providing suitable memorials of the residential school, will assist with historical reparation. The Law Commission of Canada noted that survivors of childhood abuse commonly cite ‘memorialization of the experience’ as an important step on the road to healing.
Story-telling — using formalized ways for indigenous and non-indigenous people to tell and listen to each other’s stories and histories — is one of the strategies intended to promote the development of a new partnership.
Healing coordinator hired
Earlier this month the church announced it has hired Esther Wesley, a former executive director of the Ojibway and Cree Cultural Centre in Thunder Bay, to take on managing the expanded healing fund. Wesley, a member of the Cree Fort Albany First Nation in northern Ontario, will also collect and assemble stories of residential schools experiences arising from the funded projects.
Ms. Wesley has previously served on the church’s international development agency, the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund and has worked with the international Anglican Indigenous Network.
In the earlier part of this century, the Anglican Church of Canada was involved in operating more than 20 residential schools under the direction of the Government of Canada. A major goal of the schools was to assimilate Indigenous persons into European culture.
In 1969 the church withdrew from the residential schools project and committed itself to working with Indigenous peoples in support of land and treaty rights. The church began formally addressing the legacy of residential schools in 1991 with the creation of its Healing Fund. In 1993, the church apologized for its role in the schools.
Archdeacon Jim Boyles, the church’s General Secretary, said the new healing plan represents an expansion and continuation of the church’s commitment to partnership with Indigenous peoples.
This work has been thrown into sharp relief by the current residential schools crisis, in which thousands of residential schools survivors have brought lawsuits against the Government of Canada, and various church organizations, claiming damages for abusive treatment in the schools.
The church’s national organization, the General Synod, and some dioceses face probable bankruptcy in the near future if the federal Department of Justice continues its aggressive pursuit of church organizations as ‘third parties.’ More than 40 percent of the cases involving General Synod are brought as third-party actions by the Department of Justice.
Healing work may survive lawsuits
Faced with a revenue shortfall last year (only partially related to the residential schools crisis), the General Synod chose to increase its work in healing and Indigenous justice, while making cuts elsewhere. The new healing plan is intended to give substances to the increased spending announced at that time.
Much of this work will be based in dioceses and parishes, Archdeacon Boyles notes. “We hope that it may be possible for the work to continue in some way, even if the government forces us into bankruptcy.”
The healing plan says the church is committed to a new relationship with Indigenous Peoples, “based on a partnership which focuses on the cultural, spiritual, social and economic independence of Indigenous communities.”
The complete text is available at in the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples section of this website.