The following is an abbreviated version of the homily for National Indigenous Sunday
Paul, in his letter the Galatians wrote, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” 3:28: This wonderful proclamation of inclusivity resonates within us today.
Paul’s words and today’s gospel (John 1:1-18) focus on our common humanity and on an all-encompassing God, whom the gospel tells us called creation out of chaos and breathed out life.
Today on the Indigenous Day of Prayer, we give thanks for the Indigenous people and their contributions to our common life and our understanding of the world. Individually and collectively we are invited to seek out ways to work for reconciliation and justice in our hearts and minds and practices.
We do this in a number of ways.
As part of reconciliation we also remember our history, so that we appreciate that it includes times when we did not live by Paul’s words to the Galatians. Sometimes the history was guided by white supremacy, often good intentions, sometimes missteps, sometimes great financial pain for Anglican dioceses, often confusion and grief…and finally genuine initiatives to repair and reconcile. Some of it is uncomfortable; some of it is sad and so it should be.
Here are a few of the dates and events.
In 1455, Pope Nicholas V decreed that non-Christian nations have no rights to their land and sovereignty in the face of claims by Christian sovereigns. In a document now referred to as the “Doctrine of discovery” he authorized the King of Portugal to conquer Africa and beyond and to engage in the slave trade. The document gave authority to the King “…to invade, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans whatsoever and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed…and to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery and to appropriate all their kingdoms…dominions, possessions, and goods, and to convert them to the king’s own use and profit.” It was the foundation of colonization and slavery.
In 1578 Church of England Chaplain Robert Wolfall, a member of Martin Frobisher’s Arctic expedition, celebrated the first Anglican eucharist near present-day Iqaluit, Nunavut.
In 1820 the Anglican missionary John West went to the Red River Settlement in today’s southern Manitoba. On his way, West took children from several communities as far as 850 kilometers to establish the first Anglican residential school.
In 1828: The Mohawk Institute was established as a day school beside the Six Nations reserve in southwestern Ontario. It became a residential school in 1831 and operated until 1970, making it the oldest, and largest continuously operated Anglican residential school in Canada.
Between 1820 and 1969, the Anglican Church of Canada administered more than thirty residential schools for Indigenous children. (Other Canadian churches had roles in nearly 140 institutions).
In 1852, Rev. Henry Budd became the first Cree ordained to Anglican ministry. He established congregations in northern Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The Church Missionary Society paid him half the annual stipend of a white missionary.
In 1855: the Anglican Women’s Auxiliary began sending clothing, Sunday school materials, and medical and educational supplies to residential schools. Some sponsored school children.
In 1920 the federal government made residential school attendance compulsory for Indigenous children.
In 1969 General Synod approved the recommendations of Charles Hendry’s report, “Beyond Traplines.” The report set the church on a new course in its relations with Indigenous peoples. Synod committed to a partnership with Indigenous peoples, based on solidarity, equality, and mutual respect.
In 1969 The Anglican Church transferred responsibility for the “Indian residential schools” to the federal Department of Indian Affairs, ending its 100-year partnership with the federal government.
In 1991 The Anglican Church set up the Anglican Healing Fund to support community based programs that help educate and heal. The fund has supported more than 600 healing projects across the country. A local recipient is the Neechi Sharing Circle, or Friend’s circle, that takes place every Thursday at 11 AM in Allan Gardens co-led by the Toronto Urban Native Ministry.
In 1993 On August 6, at Minaki, Ontario, Primate Michael Peers offered an apology to all who suffered from the Anglican residential schools.
In 1998 survivors of the Anglican-run Mohawk Institute filed a claim against the federal government, the Anglican Diocese of Huron, the New England Company, (founded in 1649 to propagate the Gospel in New England and adjacent places in America) and General Synod on behalf of students at the school between 1943 and 1967. It led to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.
In 2001 The Anglican Diocese of Cariboo ceased operation. Legal costs for damage suits by former students of St. George’s Indian Residential School in Lytton, BC, had financially exhausted the diocese.
In 2005 the Sacred Circle in Pinawa, Manitoba, approved the appointment of a National Indigenous Bishop. Mark MacDonald was named to this position.
In 2006 The Anglican Church joined other churches, the federal government, Indigenous organizations, and residential schools survivors to sign an overarching Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. This agreement settled the class-action lawsuit launched by survivors of the Mohawk Institute in 1998, but with a nation-wide focus. The agreement includes a “Common Experience Payment” and an “Independent Assessment Process,” intended to compensate survivors of sexual, physical, or emotional abuse in the residential school system.
In 2008 the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada began working and subsequently documented the multigenerational trauma, sorrow and pain that resulted from colonialism under the Doctrine of Discovery: consequences that we still see on reserves, city streets and in prisons.
In 2010 The Rt. Rev. Lydia Mamakwa was consecrated as area bishop for the 16 Indigenous parishes of the Diocese of Keewatin. She was the first Indigenous woman bishop in Canada, the first elected by Indigenous people according to their traditional practice.
In 2010 General Synod endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
In 2014 the Primate’s Commission was established to consider how the church should act to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery, promote healing and reconciliation and to work for Indigenous justice.
2015: The Truth and Reconciliation filed the 94 Calls to Action. The Anglican Church of Canada took up the challenge and committed to work toward their implementation.
On March 19, 2016, Primate Fred Hiltz, committed the Anglican Church of Canada “to formally adopt and comply with the principles, norms and standards of the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples”.
Beginning in 2021 ground penetrating radar identified the suspected graves of more than 2,000 children near former residential schools. These are believed to be the final resting place of children, taken from their parents, who died of a combination of disease, neglect, abuse and accident.
Their names may have been marked by wooden crosses that have long since disappeared. The visible record of their lives no longer remains …but other graves are thought to have never been noted.
While the investigation of the sites is ongoing the sites remind us of a time when churches participated in the government’s systematic attempts to eliminate First Nations Languages and Cultures.
Many of our First People sisters and brothers still face a humanitarian crisis living in crowded housing in communities that are vulnerable to flooding and damage from climate change: where they lack safe drinking water: where going to high school means that young people still leave the communities.
Today marks our recommitment to this journey of restoring our shared communion in the one body and our co-creation in the coming kingdom of Justice and peace.
We pray that God, our common Father will be with us now as we seek to heal old wounds and find joy again in this relationship.
We pray today for the gifts of honesty and openness, to our history and the continuing impacts of decisions made in the name of our church.
As an institutional Church we have failed to uphold our covenant and as we have looked back so we look ahead and pray that we will be good ancestors.