Make room in church for the invisible people

doctrine of discoveryTwo delegates from Winnipeg and one from Edmonton accompanied Rev Canon Virginia Doctor, the Indigenous Ministries Co-ordinator for the Anglican Church of Canada, at an October gathering in Phoenix on issues facing First Nations people living in urban areas. The Winnipeg delegates were Barbara Shoomski and Ellen Cook.  Sharon Pasula came from Edmonton.

Delegates agreed that indigenous people in North American cities are not respected in the church for who they are and that they feel invisible. They asked the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada to take an interest in faith formation for urban indigenous youth and in prevention of suicide, teen pregnancy and substance abuse.

The gathering, which is an annual event called Urban Network, hosted panels and workshops on topics including leadership development, mental health in youth and young adults, worship and prayer, and teaching of tradition and language.

The urban areas are so big, and people are so scattered that it is difficult to form a community. Our churches’ urban ministries in the downtown area were samples of successful urban ministry areas.

It was a time for learning and sharing, for coming together for mutual support. The urban areas are so big, and people are so scattered that it is difficult to form a community. We talked about those places that have had success in terms of urban ministry, like San Jose and Winnipeg. Our churches’ urban ministries in the downtown area were samples of successful urban ministry areas.

We had long discussions – we worked from 8:30 every morning till around 7:30 in the evening. We talked about the plight of our urban aboriginal people and the situation they find themselves in, but we didn’t just focus on the big urban areas – we also spoke about the overall problems our fellow native people face – especially the youth – and the suicide rates among our young people.

So we came up with a couple of statements that we would put forward to our national churches. These statements are shown below.

We will pray for healing from our losses as Indigenous people – losses of land, language, culture, innocence and family. We call upon our Elders and Ancestors for help.

We call upon our Churches to partner with us to address these concerns by developing resources that are spiritually rooted, biblical and culturally relevant. We will write prayers for these concerns and for healing from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome resulting from our losses as Indigenous people – losses of land, language, culture, innocence and family. We will call upon our Elders and Ancestors to assist in developing these resources.

One day in the Phoenix gathering was dedicated to the Doctrine of Discovery and the repudiation of this doctrine. We discussed the Episcopal Church’s stance on this issue, and the importance of churches to repudiate this doctrine.

In 2009, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church repudiated and renounced the Doctrine of Discovery with resolution DO35. The Doctrine of Discovery refers to a set of legal and ecclesiastical documents and policies giving full blessing and sanction of the Church to the colonizing dispossession (genocide) of the indigenous peoples and lands of the Americas.

Learn about, prayerfully reflect upon history, and take reconciling steps in response to this painful past and present.

These policies, which included actions taken in the 15th century by the English King Henry VII (1496) and other Christian leaders, continue to be invoked in contemporary practice, and are used to justify ongoing oppression of Indigenous Peoples throughout the Americas. With the repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery, the Episcopal Church acknowledged the chasm between Christian faith and these actions of the church and the United States, and has charged the dioceses and people of the Church to learn about, prayerfully reflect upon history, and take reconciling steps in response to this painful past and present. 

Statement 1: We feel invisible

The Indigenous Urban Ministry Network gathering in Phoenix, AZ, October 9-11, 2013 wants to communicate to the Church that the majority of Indigenous people live in urban areas and experience a myriad of challenges:

Our Indigenous people in the urban areas lack a sense of spiritualness and identity; are not respected in the Church for who they are and feel invisible.

The ordination process is culturally inappropriate for both urban and rural dwellers; there is a lack of opportunities for early faith formation.

Our people in the urban areas face socio-economic issues such as:

  • Lack of employment and lack of job training
  • Poor access to government resources and programs
  • Lack of adequate and safe housing
  •  High rates of addictions, family violence, suicide, etc.
  • Our people in the urban areas lack a sense of belonging to community which leads to unhealthy choices such as joining gangs and prostitution.
  • We call upon our Churches to assist in developing culturally effective strategies for Indigenous urban ministry.

 

Statement 2: Suicide prevention

We need to develop international culturally appropriate strategies to address major issues facing Indigenous youth/young adults living on Turtle Island. These include but are not limited to:

  • Suicide prevention and intervention; the suicide rate among Indigenous youth/young adults is one of the highest on Turtle Island. One Indigenous community reported 24 suicides in one year. There is a need to create appropriate pastoral care for the grieving.
  • Teen pregnancy prevention – teen pregnancy rates are very high in our Indigenous communities.
  • There is a lack of faith formation and spiritual development; consequently our youth/young adults have an increasing interest in other spiritualities such as witchcraft, Satanism, etc.
  • Substance abuse prevention and awareness – again Indigenous youth are disproportionately represented statistically.
  • Our youth/young people represent the majority in the prison system.

The following urban and rural areas were represented at the gathering in Phoenix: Phoenix, AZ, Farmington, NM, Fairbanks, AK, Tucson, AZ, Oklahoma City, OK, Randlett, Utah, Edmonton, Alberta, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Toronto, Ontario

Report by Ellen Cook

Want to learn more? Read Exposing the Doctrine of Discovery: A call to healing and hope.