By Matt Gardner for Anglican Church of Canada
The end of the #22Days project saw members of the Anglican Church of Canada reflecting on their experience while pondering how the church could maintain its commitment to justice for Indigenous people going forward.
For more than three weeks, Anglicans from coast to coast listened to the sacred stories of residential schools survivors, prayed for survivors and their families, and rang church bells to raise awareness about the ongoing crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
Thoughts from the Primate
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, suggested that dioceses and parishes should continue to raise the profile of the residential schools’ legacy.
“I think the value of the 22 days in terms of the stories is that it gives a very complex issue in this country a face and a heart,” Archbishop Hiltz said.
“These stories remind us of what’s behind all this and what continues to unfold in terms of the intergenerational impact of the residential schools and the conditions with which people in Indigenous communities and in downtown cores are living. They’re connected.”
The Primate said that the #22Days campaign and bell ringing have had a “life-changing” effect on many church members by opening up conversations about the residential schools and the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women, while giving them a chance to get involved.
This September, Archbishop Hiltz will attend a meeting to begin discussing the overall plan of the church to respond to the 94 recommendations put forward by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
He noted that the church will likely organize events on Oct. 4, the National Day of Vigils to remember and honour missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. The 2015 federal election, he added, provides another opportunity for Anglicans to press for a government inquiry into the issue.
Indigenous Ministries reacts
National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald said he was gratified by the commitment shown by church leaders towards following up on the TRC calls to action.
But he stressed that any effective follow-up would require an overall strategy or vision for the church and associated organizations—including the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund, Anglican Foundation, Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples, and Council of General Synod—to implement the recommendations.
“It really involves all of us … Again, I’m seeing so much positive and enthusiastic response and interest in talking about this that I’m very happy,” Bishop MacDonald said.
“People are reading the recommendations and saying, ‘Well, this applies to us’—both Indigenous and non-Indigenous.”
Though hopeful at the beginning of the #22Days project and impressed that non-Indigenous deans had proposed it, he said that the campaign had exceeded his expectations.
“It appeared to grow and in a person-to-person kind of way,” he said. “We had a lot of reports of how much impact this had on local folks. The cathedrals and many Anglican churches took it to heart, and I’ve really lost track of the dozens and dozens of people who’ve said that it was going very well and that it had had a huge impact on their community.”
Hearing the sacred stories of residential school survivors during the 22 days, however, proved a draining experience for Indigenous Ministries Coordinator Ginny Doctor, who offered a personal glimpse into the ongoing harm caused by residential schools.
“There’s a lot of things that aren’t right in our Indigenous communities,” Doctor said. “It’s really mind-boggling. It really keeps me up some nights, because as a woman who was raised on a reservation … I’ve experienced all of those injustices and all those losses that contribute to who I am today, and my family as well.
“So it’s really difficult at times to have to sit through and watch those stories, because a lot of them are your stories.”
Expressing her desire to move forward with the healing process (“Let’s do that kind of work so that we can move on”), she noted that any follow-up would require strong commitment both inside and outside the Anglican Church of Canada.
“It’s going to take commitment from all of our folks out there who are really concerned about justice-making,” Doctor said. “Otherwise we’re not going to go anywhere with it.”
Views at the parish level
In churches and cathedrals throughout the country, clergy and parishioners had plenty of ideas to continue the momentum created by the #22Days project.
The Very Rev Mike Sinclair, dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in Regina, said the cathedral had floated the idea of continuing to ring its bells even after the end of the campaign.
Noting that the national church had to go beyond such symbolic measures by building relationships of equality with Indigenous communities in their midst, he pressed for a “restorative” approach.
“We need to be deliberate about figuring out what it is that we helped in taking away, and then find ways in relationship to help restore those things,” Sinclair said.
“If it’s language, we need to be about language. If it’s culture, we need to be about culture. If it’s a family structure, we need to be able to support endeavours to strengthen the family structure. If it’s identity and self-worth, we need to be pouring our energies into that.”
He added, “I think it’s important as far as reconciliation goes for us to be as restorative as we can, but from a place of equality rather than from a place of kind of continued colonialism.”
The Rev. Barbara Liotscos (ret’d), a member of Christ Church Meaford in the Diocese of Huron, suggested that #22Days could become an annual event.
She pointed to the importance of continued education on Indigenous issues in addition to the stories of residential school survivors.
“It might be looking at land or treaties, or all kinds of different aspects of what does it mean to be in right relationship,” Liotscos said.
Offering the example of the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh, she added, “We could look at best practices as the Anglican Church of Canada for where Indigenous Anglicans have more of a voice, and see how we might build that into at least our General Synod.”
Speaking from Christ Church Cathedral in Ottawa, Dean Shane Parker emphasized the importance of building relationships, which the cathedral had done to a great extent over the 22 days.
On Thanksgiving Sunday, he noted, local Algonquin spiritual leader Albert Dumont will speak at the cathedral in place of the sermon, recognizing the equality of native spirituality.
Meanwhile, the cathedral has also established relationships with other Indigenous leaders and artists in the community.
“It is about relationships, both within the Indigenous Anglican community but also outside of that community, with Aboriginal peoples across the country who have communities in all of our dioceses—to hold them up in prayer … and to come to understand and know one another as companions on the journey, not as conquered people and conquerors.”
At St. George’s Anglican Church in Owen Sound, Ont., parish council—after receiving requests from the non-church community—voted to continue ringing its bells on a daily basis and to erect a semi-permanent sign noting it would continue to do so until the federal government holds an inquiry.
Visit the Anglican Church of Canada website for more details on truth and reconciliation plans within the church and ecumenically, as well as links to resources and future action opportunities.