Beyond #Canada150: A Statement from the Primate on National Aboriginal Day 2017

Like many other Canadians, I am mindful that within just a couple of weeks of observing National Aboriginal Day on June 21, we will be commemorating 150 years of Confederation on July 1. For many this will be a great celebration complete with flag raisings and fly passes, parades and concerts, races and regattas, feasts and fire works. For many, this will be a time of national thanksgiving, and rightly so, for among other things the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms with the benefits we enjoy as Canadians. It will be a time for reflection on our place in the family of nations committed to peace and freedom for all peoples in the world.

Yet for many #Canada150 will pass with much less of an air of celebration given the history of relationships between the First Peoples of this land and the Settler Peoples. For some, #Canada150 is now #Resistance150, as #Canada150 is a reminder that this country’s founding is inextricably linked to this relationship. This relationship is marked by an imperial arrogance that became enshrined in a Federal Government Policy of Assimilation of the First Peoples into the culture, social structures and governance established by colonial powers.

Enforced by the establishing of the Indian Residential Schools, generations of Indigenous Peoples lost much of their language, culture, identity and spirituality. Through “the child taken and the parent left behind” there were so many years of lost love resulting in a devastating impact on people’s dignity and self-worth.

The legacy of those schools lives on. It lives on even after the Government of Canada finally issued an Apology in the House of Commons on June 11, 2008 in Ottawa. It lives on after a number of the churches which ran the schools on behalf of the government – including our own – made formal apologies. None of us will ever forget the words of Archbishop Michael Peers, “…I am sorry that we tried to remake you in our image…We failed you. We failed God. We failed ourselves…”. (August 6, 1993, Minaki, Ontario)

TRC Calls to Action

As Canadians and as Anglicans, particularly those who followed the work of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), the time between National Aboriginal Day and Canada Day is a time to re-read the 94 Calls to Action that accompanied the final report of the TRC Commissioners, released in December 2015. Counting myself in that company, I feel bound to draw the attention of all Canadians to a number of those Calls, to our deepen understanding of them, to recommit ourselves to the work they call for, and to pray in hope for the healing and reconciliation to which they aspire.

#53 calls for the establishing of a National Council for Reconciliation that would “monitor, evaluate, and report annually to Parliament and the Peoples of Canada on the Government of Canada’s post apology progress on reconciliation”.

#78 calls “The Government of Canada to commit to making a funding contribution of $10 Million over seven years to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation…”. This Centre is already in collaboration with Indigenous Peoples, Provincial Education Ministers and numerous community based organizations, producing resources that will educate all Canadians on the history of the Residential Schools (#62, #63, #64 & #65).

#81 and #82 – call for the erection of a “Residential Schools Monument” in the nation’s capital and in each provincial capital “to honour Survivors and all the children who were lost to their families and communities”.

#68 calls on “the federal government, in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples, and the Canadian Museums Association to mark the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation in 2017 by establishing a dedicated national funding program for commemoration projects on the theme of reconciliation”.

#45 calls for a Royal Proclamation of Reconciliation to be issued by the Crown repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery, adopting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, renewing or establishing Treaty relationships, and taking steps “to ensure that Aboriginal peoples are full partners in Confederation”.

#79 calls for a national heritage plan that will include ways to mark the contributions of Aboriginal peoples to Canada’s history.

#80 calls for the establishing of “…a statutory holiday, a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation…”.

The legacy of the Residential Schools

A number of the Calls to Action speak to the need for much more attention to “the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual harms caused by residential schools…” (#21); the vulnerability of Aboriginal women and girls to violence through human trafficking (#41); and the high rates of incarceration of Aboriginal peoples and to “eliminate barriers to the creation of additional Aboriginal healing lodges within the federal correctional system” (#35).

So numerous are the concerns for the well-being of Indigenous Peoples, that Call to Action #56 calls on the Prime Minister to issue an “annual ‘State of Aboriginal Peoples’ report”.

Language, culture, and spirituality

Many of you will know that several of the Calls to Action speak to the revitalization of Indigenous languages, culture and spirituality, including the enactment of an Aboriginal Languages Act and the appointment of a Commissioner to oversee its work (#14 & #15).

Another Call issues a challenge for the churches to provide permanent funding for community-controlled healing and reconciliation projects, culture and language revitalization projects, and education and relationship building projects. (#61)

I am pleased to say that long before such a Call, our Church was supporting and continues to support projects for recovery of language, culture and spirituality through the Anglican Healing Fund. As the Church celebrates the 25th anniversary of the work of this Fund, we are committed to rebuilding its base by raising $1 million this year to ensure at least $200,000 is available for each of the next five years for continuing this good work. We have spent 22 Days from May 31 to National Aboriginal Day to deepen our commitment to this work.

As Esther Wesley, the Coordinator of the Anglican Healing Fund has said, “Recovery of language is about recovery of one’s identity, dignity and delight in being an Indigenous person”. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to Esther for her outstanding work, not only with the Healing Fund, but also as our lead staff person for anti racism training programs throughout the whole Church. We are blessed by her passion, patience and perseverance in this work.

Animator for Reconciliation

It is important that I continue to hold these Calls to Action before the Church so that as responsible citizens and as people whose faith is absolutely centred in the reconciling work of God in Christ, we can be proactive in speaking of the Calls and in supporting them.

I am ever grateful for the ongoing work of the Primate’s Commission on Discovery, Reconciliation and Justice and the direction in which it points our Church. I am also delighted by our Church’s commitment to engage, on a full-time basis, someone who will serve as Animator for Reconciliation. Melanie Delva has begun her work. Her mantra for this ministry is that reconciliation is a spiritual practise. Melanie will be travelling the country extensively and working with bishops, synods, regions and parishes, colleges and schools, with elders and youth, in supporting their commitments in responding to the Calls to Action.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

The TRC Commissioners declared the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to be the framework for reconciliation in Canada. They called on the churches among others in Canadian society to endorse the declaration and put in place plans for adhering to it.

I am pleased that in 2010 our General Synod endorsed the declaration. In 2016 I issued a public statement “Let our ‘yes’ be yes” outlining a number of ways in which we as a church might honour and uphold the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

They included the appointing of a Council of Indigenous Elders and Youth to hold our Church accountable for its public endorsement of the UN declaration. That Council was commissioned for its work at General Synod in 2016 and held its first face-to-face meeting last month. Co-chaired by Judith Moses and Leigh Kern, the members have appropriately renamed themselves “The Vision Keepers”.

Indigenous self-determination in the Anglican Church of Canada

In relation to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and its Calls to Action, I was always taken by the interest of the Commissioners in the Anglican Church of Canada’s commitment to self-determination for Indigenous Peoples within our church. And I mean real, practical on-the-ground commitment.

I mean responding to the call for the appointment of a National Indigenous Anglican Bishop. The Right Reverend Mark L. MacDonald was commissioned for his ministry ten years ago at General Synod in 2007.

I mean the setting aside of rules and procedures common to our processes for the election of bishops, so as to create space for electing Indigenous bishops in accord with Indigenous customs.

I think of Bishop Lydia Mamakwa’s election and the subsequent emerging of Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh. I think of the election of Adam Halkett to be the Indigenous Bishop for the Diocese of Saskatchewan. I think of Bishop Barbara Andrews work in the newly proclaimed Territory of the People. I think of Bishop Riscylla Walsh Shaw, a citizen of the Métis Nation of Ontario. And I think of, the Right Reverend Sidney Black, the newly consecrated Indigenous Bishop for Treaty 7 Territory in the Diocese of Calgary.

I think of the work of the Indigenous House of Bishops Leadership Circle, the Anglican Council of Indigenous People and the Sacred Circle. The work of each of those circles is almost entirely focussed on self-determination and what that might look like.

The vision of a truly Indigenous Church within The Anglican Church of Canada is enshrined in the 1994 Covenant – A Journey of Spiritual Renewal. In 1995, General Synod accepted the hand of partnership extended by Indigenous leaders in the hope of that vision. In 2016, the whole Church took account of a statement from the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples “Where we are: Twenty Years after the Covenant”. That statement spoke of a ministry plan for Indigenous ministry across our Church.

This summer, we are planning a consultation to be held in Pinawa, Manitoba in mid-September (14-17). Indigenous and non-Indigenous people from throughout the Church, all of whom have a demonstrated commitment to the vision of a truly indigenous expression of the Church, will gather. Over the course of three days, we will take stock of where we have come in “The Journey of Spiritual Renewal”.

We will celebrate great moments that have inspired us to continue the journey. We will name issues that cause us from time to time to hesitate or lack the courage of our conviction with respect to self-determination. We will take some time to learn more about the nature and substance of self-determination.

We will be blessed to have Dr. Martin Brokenleg, a highly respected Indigenous scholar, elder and priest as our keynote speaker and animator for this conversation. We will conclude our time with some engagement in a report from a focus group convened by Bishop Mark MacDonald with respect to a model for self-determination with a fair degree of flexibility within it. For now it bears the image of an “Indigenous Confederacy” within The Anglican Church of Canada. The consultation promises to be a challenging but fascinating conversation marked I trust, by much grace and hope.

Throughout our time we will be immersed in the story of The Road to Emmaus (Day 1 – on the road, Day 2 – at the inn, and Day 3 – on the road again). The name of the story in an Indigenous translation of the Gospel of Luke is “The Road to Warm Springs”. That is the theme for our time together. I ask your prayers for Bishop Mark and me as we host this gathering and for the Planning Team co-chaired by the Rev. Norm Wesley and Dr. Randall Fairey.

The Fundamental Principle 

I conclude with an excerpt from the closing comments that accompany the Ten Principles the Commission identified as underlying their 94 Calls to Action. It reads in part…

“Together, Canadians must do more than just talk about reconciliation; we must learn how to practise reconciliation in our everyday lives—within ourselves and our families, and in our communities, governments, places of worship, schools, and workplaces. To do so constructively, Canadians must remain committed to the ongoing work of establishing and maintaining respectful relationships.

For many Survivors and their families, this commitment is foremost about healing themselves, their communities, and their nations in ways that revitalize individuals as well as Indigenous cultures, languages, spirituality, laws, and governance systems. For governments, building a respectful relationship involves dismantling a centuries-old political and bureaucratic culture in which, all too often, policies and programs are still based on failed notions of assimilation. For churches, demonstrating long-term commitment requires atoning for actions within the residential schools, respecting Indigenous spirituality, and supporting Indigenous peoples’ struggles for justice and equity. …For Canadians from all walks of life, reconciliation offers a new way of living together.”

Pray with me that this principle be etched on the very soul of our Church and our commitment to healing, reconciliation and new life.

The Most Rev. Fred Hiltz
The Anglican Church of Canada


*updated June 21, 2017

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