Nearly 100 Anglicans from across the diocese, as well as a few from as far as British Columbia, learned and shared ideas on how to live out the call to reconciliation at the diocese’s Outreach and Advocacy Conference, held online on Oct. 29. The conference theme was “Pointing our Feet toward Right Relationship.” While Indigenous issues were highlighted, workshops were also held on housing and food issues, justice for low-income workers, disability concerns and prison issues.
Bishop Riscylla Shaw, suffragan bishop of the diocese, put forth bold challenges in a keynote address, while also praising participants for their commitment. Bishop Shaw, who is Métis, has served on the national church’s Jubilee Commission, created to propose a just funding base for the Indigenous Anglican Church. It produced a powerful video called Doctrine of Discovery: Stolen Lands, Strong Hearts.
“Many of you are engaged in building right relationship, in learning how to walk alongside rather than on top of our neighbours,” Bishop Shaw said. “This is deeply important work. There are a lot of hurt people in our churches. We’re all on the journey.” She noted that Jesus often used the term diakonos, referring to acting as a servant to God and to one another.
She affirmed the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s support for ubuntu, the idea that a person’s humanity is inextricably linked to another person’s humanity. “How do we help others see that they are created in the image of God? How do we raise up people who are suffering? We’re a lot like the rainbow people of God. We are co-creators of our future together. We have plenty of opportunities to work with our neighbours to create a better world,” said Bishop Shaw. She also encouraged participants to do political advocacy and consider running for office. “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
She noted that a surge of action in the Church around Indigenous issues is a sign of hope and said the Church as an institution is working hard to establish right relationships. At the same time, Anglicans need to continue to respond with grace, even if they’re tired. One way to do that, she said, is to focus on recommendations 71-76 from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report, which involve how faith communities can foster reconciliation.
Another challenge is that work for reconciliation is often thwarted by “the tyranny of no more budget” for this work. “Some things have to be put first,” she said. “Do we prioritize buildings over people?”
A lively question period followed Bishop Shaw’s address. In response to a question about lack of public awareness about the Church’s work towards reconciliation, she replied, “Don’t hide your light under a bushel! We Anglicans are good at hiding our light under a bushel.” She likened reconciliation work to being like water seeping into cracks, slowly having an impact.
In her hard-hitting workshop on confronting Canada’s colonial legacies, Dawn Maracle opened by saying that land acknowledgements, which have become common at events, can be an empty gesture, but if done well can serve as a meaningful act of understanding and reconciliation. Ms. Maracle is a Mohawk educator and activist who also serves as interim Animator for Indigenous Justice with the national Anglican Church. She outlined a history of Canada’s relations with Indigenous people, and how treaties are nation-to-nation agreements. “Treaties are sacred and are to be renewed.”
She also noted that the Royal Proclamation of 1763 affirmed that Indigenous people own their own lands, yet the British North America Act of 1867 put “Indians and lands reserved for Indians” under the control of the federal government. When that happened, Indigenous people lost rights and control over their lands, which has had a huge impact on their lives. “It marked a massive shift from a nation-to-nation relationship to the assumption of power over Indigenous people,” she said.
Unjust conditions for First Nations continue to this day, she noted. While army emergency response teams can drill wells to provide drinking water within 24 hours for people in other countries affected by earthquakes and disasters, some Indigenous communities in Canada have been waiting for clean drinking water for up to 80 years. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged that providing clean water to First Nations would be a priority for his government after it assumed power in 2015, yet dozens of reserves still don’t have safe water.
A workshop on housing and homelessness issues led by Shane Watson of St. John the Evangelist, Port Hope discussed how simply providing housing is not enough. People also need to have a sense of home. It’s important to consult the experts, those with lived experience of homelessness, in this effort. Mr. Watson is a member of Habitat for Humanity Northumberland’s Tiny Homes project and works with a community organization called the Green Wood Coalition, which is inspired by a radically inclusive model of caring.
“We’re talking about a crisis,” he said, referring the fact that more than 100 people are known to be homeless in Northumberland County, and that there’s a $10 per hour gap between the minimum wage and the income needed to afford a typical $1,500 per month rent. He used the metaphor of a fire department to describe the situation, saying that we call 911 if there’s a fire, but many homeless people feel that if they call authorities about their situation, no one answers. One person told him, “You get so discouraged at being turned away that there’s this feeling there’s no room for you.” Other workshop participants said they witness the impact of the housing crisis in their communities. Danielle Terbenche, a therapist, sees people whose mental health has suffered from being forced to live in stressful family settings instead of in their own homes. A woman from Wasaga Beach said local residents are paying up to $1,500 monthly for a motel room with only a hot plate to cook on because they can’t afford both first and last month’s rent for an apartment.
The purpose of this work is not just housing but home, said Mr. Watson. “Home is where you belong, where you’re an individual person.” He cited the well-known biblical tale of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-24), in which the father welcomes home his long-lost son, as an example of this sense of belonging that comes when we’re home.
The Tiny Homes initiative and a related program, Northumberland Sleeping Cabins, involve providing people with a safe, secure place of their own, as well as a sense of community through measures to provide some control over the mini-village of homes. The homes cost from $6,000-$15,000, are heated and insulated. Because they are less than 100 square feet in size, they don’t require a building permit. Tiny Homes programs are being launched in other Ontario communities, including Peterborough.
Mr. Watson emphasized that persistence is vitally important in work to counter homelessness. Our faith can help sustain us, he said, citing Hebrews 12:1-2: “Let us run with perseverance the race set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”