There have been “sins of commission and sins of omission” committed in relation to the Indian residential schools in Canada, said Susan Johnson, the national bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) .
And while the ELCIC may not have operated residential schools, it nonetheless has an obligation to help address the wrongs committed against Canada’s First Nations, said Johnson.
“We recognize now that as Canadians and as Christians who are part of this country, that we have not taken responsibility for maintaining relationships with the people of this land,” said Johnson, addressing about 200 indigenous Anglicans who gathered Aug. 5-12 for the Seventh Sacred Circle in Pinawa, Man.
Johnson said the ELCIC wasn’t involved in the federally-funded residential schools, which operated from the late 1870s to the 1990s, largely because it was a new immigrant church at that time. “At that time we were still speaking Swedish, Finnish, Estonian…,” she said. “It wasn’t even possible for us to consider participating…”
Johnson was invited by the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP) and National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald and stayed for the duration of the triennial gathering. “I come here to begin to learn, to begin to reach out and ask for help as we learn how to be in relationship, as we learn how to break down barriers…,” she said. Johnson noted that at its last general convention, the ELIC passed a resolution to be in “right relationship” with indigenous peoples.
Meanwhile, Maori bishop Kito Pikaahu spoke to Sacred Circle participants about the Maori Anglican peoples’ struggle for self-determination within the Anglican Church of Aotearoa and New Zealand.
When the New Zealand church’s constitution empowered the Maori church in 1992, five Maori bishops were consecrated. This “changed the face of the church overnight,” said Pikaahu, who is bishop of Tai Tokerau. “We became equal partners.”
Pikaahu said his people recognized that “the way to empower Maori is to give real power,” which is “gospel-based and treaty-based.”
Pikaahu drew heavy applause when he made reference to the Maori’s love for singing and dancing and said, “Can you imagine five Maori bishops sitting in the house of bishops? What are they thinking? [They’re thinking], Let’s dance, but the dance is our dance. I’m not going to dance your dance anymore, I’ve danced that long enough.”
Maori Anglicans and indigenous Anglicans in Canada share a similar story of struggle and hope, noted Pikaahu.
“The danger for the Maori church is that we are becoming tribal,” and so Anglicans who have belonged to conquering tribes have been mindful to seek forgiveness all the time.
The struggle for self-determination has also meant Maori Anglicans assuming the role of nurturers of faith in their communities, said Pikaahu. For the last 30 years, it has been essential for every Maori community to have one priest, two deacons and three lay readers, he added.
Aside from Johnson and Pikaahu, other guests at the Sacred Circle included Bishop Griselda Delgado Del Carpio of the Episcopal Church of Cuba; Malcolm Naea Chun, a native Hawaiian from the Episcopal Church; and several members of the Canadian house of bishops.