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I must say that General Synod was a mixture of emotions for many Anglicans across Canada, including Indigenous and non-Indigenous friends of ours. General Synod was held here in Vancouver for the first time since 1965. History was in the making for the Indigenous people of Canada.

I was especially taken to heart with then-Primate Fred Hiltz’s “Apology for Spiritual Harm” to the Indigenous community. It was a lot to take in, and to understand how it will affect our Indigenous community. The legacy of residential school still has a profound impact of our community from the Elders to our children. The apology was a very sincere one from the Archbishop Fred Hiltz.

The apology was not about the residential schools but about how we, the Indigenous people, did not have the power to be in control of who we were as Spiritual people, and that the dominant society was not recognizing the values of the Indigenous people. He also talked about how we had the Creator and Spiritual faith prior to the European exploitation.

“He confessed the sins of “demonizing Indigenous spiritualities,” belittling traditional teachings, “dismissing Indigenous spiritualities and disciplines as incompatible with the gospel of Christ,” declaring the teachings of the medicine wheel to be “pagan and primitive,” and “robbing your children and youth of the opportunity to know their spiritual ancestry.”

The power of his speech was his sincerity, and the heart-felt apology that he offered Indigenous people was real. Primate Hiltz’s apology came with asking support from the Elders and asking the churches what we need to do for the next steps in Reconciliation. He included the younger generation and how they want to practice their spirituality.

To quote the archbishop: 

“I have heard a number of elders speak of how the children and youth of this generation, and the seven to come, are in great need of the opportunity to be grounded in a spirituality that is true to their Indigenous identity. Let us stand with the elders in encouraging the youth to lay claim to that spirituality as their right, in their pursuit of health and happiness.”

There was a lot of information and powerful words in his apology, and I would encourage you all to read his apology and also the “Elders’ response to the Primate’s Apology.”

To quote from the response from the Elders:

“This is an historic week in the life and future of our Church. We did it together! We are partners in change. It was our finest moment as a Church. As a fully recognized self-determining people within the Anglican Church of Canada, the Apology is timely in reinforcing that the Church is walking side-by-side with us as we continue our spiritual journey for healing.

We thank you for your courage, for your eloquent Apology and for truly listening to the compassion of our Lord’s heart to accept us as your brothers and sisters with love.  In our Creator’s love, and peace we welcome your words of Apology. Thank you.  May our Creator/God be always with us.”

This is a first step, and the Primate and the Elders recognized that the reaction will be different for individuals and communities. We still have a long way to go but the initial steps are set. Archbishop Hiltz asked all the dioceses to support the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples.

“I call the whole Church to fully endorse the Anglican Council of Indigenous People’s intention to move forward with their Plan for Ministry shaped by the teachings of the elders, Gospel-based discipleship and a commitment to 'Prophetic Pastoral Care” rooted in “wholeness and healing in Indigenous community, freedom and joy'."

As Indigenous people, we have always asked for equality and the ability to make our own decisions, not be guided by the restrictive laws of the Indian Act. The laws told us we could not practice our spirituality or our Potlatches. This was very controlling, and we did not have a sense of equality with all the different church denominations. 

Individual churches, and individual people in the churches, have recognized our contribution to Canada and the churches. But is the first time in history that a governing body is giving us our right to govern ourselves, and is pledging to walk with us to be spiritually able to include our ancestral ways as Indigenous Peoples.

So when he said that the Anglican Church of Canada wants to work with us and recognizes our spirituality, it made and continues to make us feel great to be recognized as equals. Archbishop Hiltz said, “I confess our sin in failing to acknowledge that as First Peoples living here for thousands of years, you had a spiritual relationship with the Creator and with the Land. We did not care enough to learn how your spirituality has always infused your governance, social structures and family life.”

Now we will walk together and work together and learn from each other.  As the archbishop said, “Finally, I call us to renew our commitment to our baptismal covenant, especially our vow “to strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being”. In living this vow in a good way, let us embrace the Seven Grandfather Teachings: love, respect, truth, honesty, wisdom, courage, and humility.’

Archbishop Hiltz and the Elders both see our relationship that way, and we will not be a separate Indigenous breakaway from the Anglican Church.

My grandparents had me baptised and confirmed in Old Aiyansh. They would be very proud of the day that Canon XII was passed at General Synod 2019. Their belief in God was always there for them, and such was their conviction, Linda and I had tears in our eyes when we watched the announcement on live stream.

An Elder speaking in response to the Primate:

“First, I just wanted to crawl into bed and cry myself to sleep. I wanted to cry for those who have passed on who have not had the opportunity to hear the Primate’s beautiful words of Apology for spiritual harm.  I wish that they had known that their pain was not in vain.  Though they rest in peace and are in perpetual Light, I can’t help but rejoice for them too."

Lukw’il Luu-aamhl goodiy!

(My heart is happy.)


Archbishop Fred Hiltz, then-Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada offers “An Apology for Spiritual Harm” on behalf of the Anglican Church of Canada. Photo Anglican Church of Canada/Milos Tosic