Bishops raise serious questions about treaty referendum

All four Anglican bishops in British Columbia are telling church members throughout British Columbia that the that the provincial referendum on Aboriginal treaty negotiations raises “serious questions.”

In a pastoral letter to be read from pulpits all across the province next Sunday, the bishops refer all Anglicans to the recommendations of an Anglican Task Force that urges a ‘no’ vote, or a protest vote.

The bishops, spiritual leaders to Anglicans in about 200 churches and congregations in the province, say that the decision how to vote is “a matter of individual conscience.” But they urge church members “to study and learn about the complexities of treaty claims and negotiations” and emphasize the Anglican Task Force’s recommendations.

The 18 member Task Force recommended to Anglicans that if they choose to participate in the referendum, they should vote ‘no’ to all questions. If they choose not to participate, they should register a protest rather than spoil their ballots.

The provincial government started conducting the provincial Aboriginal Treaty Negotiations Referendum this week by sending out mail-in ballots, which are due back May 15. The referendum consists of eight questions, each to be answered ‘yes’ or ‘no.’

The Most Rev. David Crawley, Archbishop of Kootenay and the chief bishop (or ‘Metropolitan’) in British Columbia, in the pastoral letter signed by all four bishops, says that Anglicans come before God “as the same, penitent sinners?no one gets more, no one gets less.” In view of what he calls this ‘radical equality,’ Crawley questions the very idea of a referendum on Aboriginal treaties.

“Should or indeed can the rights of a minority, which have been acknowledged to exist by the courts of the land, be subject of a vote by a majority?” asks Crawley in the pastoral letter.

The pastoral letter also asks how the government could consider a referendum to be binding “no matter how few citizens take part in it,” and questions whether the referendum will enhance or harm the treaty process.

Much care should be given to the decision on how or whether to participate in the referendum, the letter says, adding that the bishops believe that for the next decade the relationship between First Nations peoples and non-Aboriginal peoples is likely to be “the dominant political, social, economic, and justice issue” in the province.

Joining in the statement with Crawley are Bishops Barry Jenks of the Diocese of British Columbia (which covers Vancouver Island), Michael Ingham of the Diocese of New Westminster (which covers the Lower Mainland), and William Anderson of the Diocese of Caledonia (Northern B.C.). Crawley himself has charge of the Diocese of Kootenay plus the Churches of the Central Interior of the province.

The Task Force was made up of both priests and lay members, and reported to Crawley last week. It included Anglicans from all areas of the province, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal. It was chaired by Chief Alfred Scow, OC, a retired provincial court judge and hereditary Kwicksutaineuk chief, and a member of Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver.

BC bishops’ pastoral letter on treaty referendum

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