[Episcopal News Service, by Egan Millard] Themes of indigenous values, environmental stewardship and Christian theology coalesced into one clear message during the “Prophetic Indigenous Voices on the Planetary Crisis” webinar on 30 November: All of creation is connected, and everyone must help care for it.
The webinar was the first in a four-part Advent series organised by the Anglican Indigenous Network, the Anglican Communion Environmental Network and the Anglican Alliance. It featured contributions from indigenous Anglicans in New Zealand and Polynesia. The series is designed to elevate the voices of indigenous Anglicans around the world, highlighting their unique perspectives on the natural world and the disproportionate impact that the climate crisis is wreaking on their livelihoods and cultures.
Anglicans should look to indigenous peoples for a deep, ancient understanding of the natural world and learn from their practices to forge holistic solutions to environmental problems, said National Indigenous Anglican Archbishop Mark MacDonald of the Anglican Church of Canada.
“It is desperately important to the future of our planet” that indigenous rights and cultures be respected, MacDonald told attendees. “This is a critical piece in the communion’s beginning to understand the full dimensions of the environmental crisis that is upon us.”
The centrepiece of the webinar was a video presentation from the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia. Intercut with the natural sights and sounds of the South Pacific islands, the video showed how the reverence that the Maori (the indigenous people of New Zealand, which they call Aotearoa) have for nature connects with the Anglican value of caring for creation.
Archbishop Emeritus Winston Halapua shared a reflection on the strength shown by Mary even in the midst of her lament at Jesus’ crucifixion, as depicted in John’s Gospel. Tears of grief – loimata in Samoan – can actually be a transformative, clarifying gift, Halapua said, and can become tears of joy in the sight of the resurrection.
“Loimata is God’s gift to Aotearoa, to the Anglican Communion, and to the world,” he said. “Our guardianship of such a gift . . . no one can take it away from us. It is given to be shared with God, the whole creation, including humanity.”
Attendees were introduced to Maori concepts of nature and spirituality, including kaitiakitanga, which refers to the interdependence of humans and the rest of creation. Kaitiakitanga means that all elements of the natural world are sacred and must be protected.
The term “mana” refers to the spiritual power inherent in natural features – even inanimate ones, like lakes or shorelines – that can be received by humans. It is similar to the word “Maori,” which itself refers to the life force that exists in all creation.
“While the indigenous concept of kaitiakitanga certainly predates the arrival of missionaries and western Christianity, there are significant resonances between kaitiakitanga and the Christian concept of relationality within creation,” one speaker said.
“As Christians, we affirm that human existence is intrinsically, inescapably inseparable from God. Life without God is simply impossible. God is the source of our existence, our beginning and our ending. The same way that our existence is profoundly dependent upon God, so too we have been dependent upon the Earth.”
Attendees were encouraged to adopt “an attitude of restraint” with regard to how their lifestyles can impact the natural world, similar to the practice of honouring the Sabbath.
Such an attitude, the speakers said, might “enable healing and restoration for all God’s creation, breaking the pattern of unfettered progress and unquestioning consumption of its resources. It is a reminder of the imperatives of justice, so that all creation might flourish and have abundant life.”
Fe’íloakitau Kaho Tevi, a member of the Anglican Diocese of Polynesia who is from Fiji and Tonga, shared “a story of a journey of hope” in the face of ecological crisis. Knowing that these South Pacific islands are increasingly vulnerable to flooding and wind damage from tropical storms, in 2017, the young people of the diocese took a training course from the University of the South Pacific on how to assess vulnerabilities in Tonga.
They used satellite imagery to map out the places in their communities that were most at risk from flooding and storm damage, and they made a list of the elderly people, widows, single mothers and others who might need extra help in the event of a cyclone. They also raised funds to buy and distribute basic emergency supply kits.
That meant that Tongans were more prepared in 2018 when Tropical Cyclone Gita swept through, the most intense tropical cyclone to impact Tonga in modern recorded history. Again, the young people of the diocese stepped up to help.
“The young people did the assessment of the damages in the areas that they covered. They went about quickly cleaning up the communities, cleaning up the houses, pulling down the broken branches, and also in the process, they crafted a report about the damages in their communities,” Tevi said.
With this damage assessment, they were able to apply to international partners for aid, which arrived in the form of two shipping containers’ worth of building materials, tools and emergency supplies.
“Our story is about building resilience in our communities,” Tevi said. “Our responsibility and our culture will continue to remind us that we are the guardians of God’s loimata, God’s tears. As reflected by Archbishop Emeritus Winston, Mary’s tears turned from tears of sorrow to tears of joy, a sense of resilience that in her decision to step up through her vulnerability, God reached out to her as a child.”
The second webinar focused on Indigenous Anglicans in Africa, featuring Bishop Ellinah Wamukoya of Swaziland. The series continues with South America today (14 December) and the Arctic next Monday (21 December).
More details and registration information can be found on the web pages of the Anglican Indigenous Network.