This weekend the Synod of the Anglican Diocese of Calgary convenes to consider the election of a Suffragan Bishop, elected from among the Indigenous clergy of the Diocese, to provide spiritual leadership for Anglicans in the Treaty 7 territories of Southern Alberta.
For almost fifty years the Anglican Church of Canada has been working toward a new relationship with its Indigenous peoples. The 2001 report, “A New Agape”, articulated a vision that emphasized Indigenous self-governance, self-determination, and partnership within the church nationally. The election of a National Indigenous Bishop, Mark MacDonald, in 2007 was a major step toward this vision, as was the creation of the Diocese of Mishamikweesh in 2014, encompassing over twenty-five First Nations communities in Northern Ontario.
As a precedent to this week’s motion in Calgary, the Diocese of Saskatchewan elected its first Diocesan Indigenous Bishop in 2012 to provide spiritual oversight for Anglicans of the Cree First Nations, which comprise over 60% of the membership of that diocese.
Questions remain about the voting process—which asks that a bishop be chosen by the Treaty 7 peoples for the Treaty 7 peoples—as it remains unclear if this bishop would become the automatic successor to the diocesan bishop in the event of illness or death, a position not supported by a general election of Synod as a whole.
But clearly, we are moving in the direction of greater autonomy for the Indigenous congregations of our diocese, a move that carries the potential for both healing and empowerment.