God is good! I went to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan for the first time in October 2021, to witness the ordination of deacons. One of the ordinands was my friend Dixie Bird from Montreal Lake, with whom I served on the Primate’s Commission for Reconciliation, Discovery & Justice from 2013 to 2019. As commission members, we learned a lot during those years. We shared dreams, hopes and many prayers for the increasing of the self-determining Indigenous Anglican Church. With a commitment to reconciliation-in-action, our Trent-Durham Area Council has partnered with the Rt. Rev. Adam Halkett, suffragan bishop in the north of Saskatchewan. We share experiences of ministry in our own contexts, we pray for one another, and we help put a bit of gas in Bishop Adam’s truck at Christmas time so he can get to the far reaches of northern Saskatchewan to do ministry.
On that trip last October, we traveled north for an hour to Montreal Lake Reserve to pray, sing, worship the Lord and give thanks to God for this opportunity to witness the fruit of God’s rich blessings in these courageous people stepping forward in faith to serve their communities. It was encouraging, energizing and a profound reminder of the Church’s role as bearers of Christ’s light, even when faced with overwhelming grief and despair.
This second time of traveling to Prince Albert was another story altogether. Historically, the Church of England participated with the newly formed “government” of this British “colony” in the occupation of our land. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Justin Welby, was coming to Canada to apologize to the First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples for the long reach of colonization through participating in running the Indian Residential Schools. All the Indigenous bishops of the Canadian church were invited to be present. For me, having attended the Truth & Reconciliation Commission’s seven national events as a Diocesan Ambassador of Reconciliation, and as the granddaughter of an Indian Residential School survivor, I was determined that witnessing this apology was an important part of my faith journey, as well as an opportunity to share forward the testimony of seeing first-hand this gospel imperative to work for reconciliation.
In the week prior to the arrival of Archbishop Justin, a terrible blow was dealt to the people: our National Indigenous Archbishop resigned. But still, the Archbishop of Canterbury was coming! Rallying and rising to the occasion, our retired and beloved Bishop Sidney Black has stepped in as interim National Indigenous Bishop to assist with our Indigenous ministries. And wouldn’t you know it, while in Prince Albert, both Bishop Sidney and the Metropolitan of Rupert’s Land, Archbishop Greg Kerr-Wilson, who were helping in the hosting of Archbishop Justin, came down with COVID-19.
The Archbishop of Canterbury was now here, the expected leaders of this history-making event were all suddenly absent, and out of the ashes the rest of the community stepped up. The Holy Spirit was surely present in this place. The resilience of the people of the land shone through, and the visit continued moving forward in trust, faith and quiet confidence. It was a wonder to witness. The Church is the people. It is worthy of note that our Primate, Archbishop Linda Nicholls, was a steadfast and calm listening presence and host the whole way along.
It was an hour-and-a-half drive outside of Prince Albert, more than half of it on gravel roads. When Archbishop Justin came to James Smith Reserve, he listened, he heard, he saw. Prayers and welcomes were offered, a delicious community meal was served, and then we got down to business. We heard the truths of lived experience and sustained trauma, brokenness was not concealed, the deep terrors and devastating legacies of the residential schools filled the auditorium, our ears, our hearts. Listening to these accounts changes the hearer. It was a brief visit, one that opened new international pathways for healing and justice.
It is the first of many steps for finding a way forward. We are Anglican together. The Anglican Church is the people. The Church has life, and the life-giving message of Jesus carries on.
In the words of Archbishop Terry Finlay in Inuvik at the Northern National Event of the TRC, “We have failed Jesus” — when we came and crushed the people, making them vulnerable; the Church took away children from families and communities, committing cultural genocide; unmarked graves and burial sites of unnamed children who were at those residential schools are continually being revealed across our land through ground-penetrating radar, and the devastation of these revelations is wickedly re-traumatizing. We have much work to do, as we bear one another’s burdens and re-form our institutional church. Let ours be a time remembered for the awakening of a new reverence, humility, and gratitude for the gift of life.