Aboriginal people today speak repeatedly of their desire to recover the values and freedoms they enjoyed before contact with Europeans. They focus on the struggles:
- to become self-determining once again;
- to regain their own land bases and their relationship with the land;
- to rediscover their spiritual values and practices;
- to rediscover and revive their cultures; and
- to recover their sense of identity and self-esteem as the First Peoples of this land.
The same concerns are expressed by Native people within the Anglican Church of Canada. They constitute approximately four percent of Anglican membership. There are 210 active Anglican congregations in Aboriginal communities. Two suffragan (assistant) bishops, and approximately 70 clergy are Aboriginal persons.
- THE CHURCH’S HISTORICAL RELATIONSHIP
At the time of first contact, the British had recognized the nationhood of the Aboriginal peoples, and treated them as potential political allies and trading partners. The relationship between the First Nations and the Anglican Church began in 1753 when the Reverend Thomas Wood became a missionary to the Micmac people.
British/European missionaries were convinced that their unique culture and faith expression must represent the truest reflection of Christianity and, therefore, of God’s will. The church felt it had a Christian responsibility to help the First Nations assimilate into the cultural, political, economic and social structures of the British empire.
Educating and converting children soon became a key component in meeting this responsibility. The historic mission churches were supported by the federal government to establish and run a series of “residential schools” across the country. From 1820 to the end of Anglican involvement in 1970, the Anglican Church of Canada administered more than 26 residential schools for Aboriginal people in an area stretching from Quebec west, and including the territories. Between 50,000 and 100,000 Aboriginal people are estimated to have attended. For about 100 years the schools were central to the church’s relationship with Aboriginal peoples.
- A CHANGE IN DIRECTION
In the social ferment of the 1960s, the church was challenged by the growing strength and role of provincial and national Aboriginal organizations. Anglican leaders recognized that the First Nations had been severely marginalized nad oppressed throughout Canadian history. They also identified the church’s complicity in this. The church began to question both the theological basis of its relationship with the Aboriginal peoples, and its role in administering residential schools.In 1968 the Anglican Church broke off its collaborative relationship with the government, and began to engage in solidarity actions supporting the Aboriginal peoples in three major areas:
- political self-determination;
- treaty and land rights; and
- industrial and environmental development.
This work is carried on through ecumenical agencies such as the Aboriginal Rights Coalition (formerly Project North), and through the church’s own working groups, task forces and committees.
The solidarity work required a parallel response within church structures to make space for the concerns and spiritual and cultural expressions of Aboriginal Anglicans. A Council for Native Ministries (CNM) came into being, composed of Aboriginal Anglicans from across the country, and reporting directly to the church’s National Executive Council (NEC).
During the late 1970s and much of the ’80s, this Council worked in two areas:
educating the church constituency about Aboriginal issues to enlist broad support in advocacy with government and society;
and advocating for a greater role for Aboriginal persons within the church itself, for example by increasing Aboriginal representation on various church committees.
During the latter half of the 1980s, the Council became increasingly convinced that the process of recovery must begin with self. Accordingly, CNM returned to the traditional circle and consensus decision-making for its own meetings, and initiated dialogue on Aboriginal spirituality and Christianity.
- RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS : HEALING AND RECONCILIATION
The legacy of residential schools emerged again in the fall of 1990. With leadership from the Council for Native Ministries, NEC established and staffed a Residential Schools Working Group, and provided funding to enable healing and reconciliation.Staff and members of the Residential Schools Working Group (RSWG) have participated in a number of conferences and healing circles related to Anglican-run residential schools, and have heard the individual stories of many former students and family members. The RSWG has identified
- broken family relationships
- loss of individual and communal self-esteem
- loss of identity and culture, and
- spiritual confusion
- as the nearly universal results of experiences in residential schools. This has contributed to extensive substance abuse, family and community dysfunction and suicide in Aboriginal communities, even among succeeding generations.
- A CHANGE IN DIRECTION
The condition of Aboriginal peoples a generation after the closing of most residential schools constitutes a national crisis. The institutions that ran the schools (church and government) must acknowledge their responsibility to support and encourage healing.
- WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE
Over the last quarter century, the Anglican Church has repeatedly affirmed:
- respect for the inherent dignity and intrinsic value of the cultural and spiritual traditions of Aboriginal peoples;
- the rights of Aboriginal peoples to self determination in political, cultural, economic, social (e.g. education, justice, health care) and spiritual spheres;
- the rights of Aboriginal peoples to control their own land base.
The church has also called repeatedly on federal and provincial governments to take action in accordance with these affirmations.
Through the Aboriginal Rights Coalition, the Anglican Church participated in developing the 57 recommendations contained in ARC’s submission to the Royal Commission (see Appendix #6 for full list of ARC recommendations).
In August 1993, with the support of the NEC, the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada publicly apologized to Aboriginal people for the violence they had suffered in Anglican-run residential schools, pledged continuing support for healing and reconciliation related to this issue, and encouraged diocesan bishops to take similary actions within their own jurisdictions.
In October 1993, the Residential Schools Working Group passed a series of resolutions encouraging the church to commit continued financial and personnel resources to healing work related to residential schools, and to support cultural and spiritual recovery for Aboriginal people within the church. Other resolutions also ask the National Executive Council to urge the federal government to apologize for its role in the residential schools, and commit financial resources to support grassroots, Aboriginal healing programs for people harmed by the schools.
ANGLICAN PARTICIPANTS IN THE SPECIAL CONSULTATION with the ROYAL COMMISSION ON ABORIGINAL PEOPLES
- Citadel Hotel, Ottawa, November 8-9, 1993
- Representatives at the Table
- Archdeacon Jim Boyles, General Secretary of the General Synod, Toronto, ON
- The Rev. Peter Hamel, Consultant on National Affairs, Staff representative on Aboriginal Rights Commission, Recently appointed priest at St. Paul’s Church, Haida community of Masset, B.C.
- The Rev. James Isbister, Member: Plains Cree Nation, Atakakoop Reserve, Saskatchewan, Deputy-Prolocutor of General Synod, Chair: Council for Native Ministries
- The Rt. Rev. Caleb Lawrence, Bishop: Anglican Diocese of Moosonee, Ontario Member: National Executive Council Liaison for Council of the North with the Council for Native Ministries
- Vi Samaha, Member: Nlaka’pamux Nation, Diocese of Cariboo, British Columbia. Member: National Executive Council Member: Council for Native Ministries Former student of St. George’s Residential School, Lytton, BC
- Staff Back-up: John Bird, Special Assistant to the Primate on Residential Schools (Media Contact at the Consultation); Shirley Harding, Special Assistant to the Primate on Residential Schools; The Rev. Laverne Jacobs, Co-ordinator for Native Ministries