This April, Chris Hiller began work as the Anglican Church of Canada’s new Indigenous Justice Co-ordinator.
Amidst national land, treaty, land, and resource rights disputes, healing initiatives following residential school traumas, and varying human rights concerns such as education and health shared by all inhabitants of this land — it’s no secret that this is a big job.
Ms. Hiller says she is up for the challenge: “It’s a difficult time, but an exciting one,” she said. “In the Church, in ecumenical Jubilee [projects] that focus on renewal of the earth, in aboriginal communities and in broader societyÖ there’s an upsurge of passion and interest in these [Aboriginal] issues across the country,” she said.
At the same time, she noted there is evidence of ‘backlash’ against aboriginal communities in recent instances such as the Marshall decision in New Brunswick (affirming Native treaty rights to fish) and the Nisg’aa treaty in British Columbia (establishing self-governance and land and resource rights for the Nisga’a people on a portion of their traditional lands).
Dr. Eleanor Johnson, Director of Partnerships, said Ms. Hiller brings solid experience: “We’re really thrilled to have her fill this role.”
Ms. Hiller comes to the position with over six years of experience in adult education. She has taught employment-readiness and literacy skills to immigrant and homeless women. These experiences led her to an “ongoing awareness of racismÖat the personal, policy and community levelsÖ how it affect[s] the lives around me, and my life.”
According to Ms. Hiller, as a non-native woman, “I feel personally that understanding Native issues and realities are related to my understanding of myself as a Canadian and as a Christian. A lot of justice work can be done outside the church, but I choose to locate myself here, working towards justice and reconciliation.”
As Indigenous Justice Coordinator, Ms. Hiller will represent the Anglican Church ecumenical networks such as the Aboriginal Rights Coalition (ARC) and Taskforce on the Churches and Corporate Responsibility (TCCR).
In addition, like her predecessor, Catherine Morrison, Ms. Hiller will attend Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples’ meetings. She will work in collaboration with Donna Bomberry, who is the Church’s Indigenous Ministries Co-ordinator.
The Indigenous Ministries position focuses on issues such as preparation for the ministry and conducting ministry in aboriginal communities. In Canada, there are 225 Anglican congregations composed all or almost all of Indigenous peoples.
The Indigenous justice Coordinator position, by contrast, primarily addresses justice issues in Canadian society which impact Aboriginal peoples.
Indigenous justice staff positions in the Anglican Church of Canada date back to 1969 and came about as a response to General Synod’s understanding “that [the church] needs to pay attention to justice issues that are affecting aboriginal people,” said Dr. Johnson.
The Indigenous Justice Co-ordinator role as it exists today was formed in 1996. At this time, three full-time staff positions with the Anglican Church of Canada were discerned to reflect the amount of staff work being done in Aboriginal ministry and community development. Along with the Indigenous justice and Indigenous ministries positions, a third full-time position of Development Co-ordinator, Canadian and Indigenous Ministries, was formalised.
Ms. Bomberry said that she particularly looks forward to Hiller’s support in working on treaty rights violations as identified in the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.
“If treaties were honored, we wouldn’t see such a need [in aboriginal communities],” she said. “Chris’ position is also to raise up Indigenous people toÖmove from dependency to self-determination.”
Ms. Bomberry added that, A particular component of the job is to “educate the non-native church and to seek support from Indigenous members.”
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