Indigenous Peoples in the Diocese of Toronto
Collectively, First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people in Canada are referred to as Indigenous Peoples. Close to 300,000 Indigenous people live in Ontario, some 70,000 of whom reside within the city of Toronto. The Diocesan boundaries also include several First Nations communities, including the Chippewas of Rama and Georgina Island, Mississaugas of Scugog Island, Hiawatha, Alderville, and Curve Lake First Nations.
The Diocese of Toronto supports ministry by, to, and for Indigenous peoples in Toronto through our FaithWorks ministry partner Toronto Urban Native Ministry.
In recent years, especially since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission began its work, it has become increasingly common for gatherings in Canada to begin with acknowledgments of the Indigenous history of the land on which the meeting is taking place. For us in the Church, this practice helps us acknowledge that we are located in a particular place with a particular history, and reminds us of our obligations toward both the land and to those who have inhabited it long before the arrival of Christian missionaries. It is also our way of expressing a willingness to move toward reconciliation and a renewed, respectful relationship with Indigenous peoples. Including territorial acknowledgments in worship services was one of four means of reconciliation recommended in 2016 by the Primate’s Commission on Discovery, Reconciliation and Justice, tasked with addressing reconciliation and injustices against Indigenous people in Canada.
Forms of territorial acknowledgement adapted for different parts of our Diocese can be found here.
National Indigenous Day of Prayer
The month of June has been designated National Indigenous History Month and June 21 is observed as National Indigenous People’s Day. In the Anglican Church of Canada, a Sunday on or near June 21 may be observed as the National Indigenous Day of Prayer. Liturgical resources for observing National Indigenous Day of Prayer can be found here.
Truth and Reconciliation
The Anglican Church was one of several denominations in Canada which operated residential schools for Indigenous children, first privately and later on behalf of the Government of Canada. Following Confederation in 1867 and the passage of the federal Indian Act in 1876, the federal government adopted aggressive policies with regard to the regulation, education and ultimate assimilation of Indigenous peoples. The church-run residential schools became vehicles for these assimilationist policies, which the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada later described as “cultural genocide.” In addition to the rupture of family and community ties and the loss of their language and culture, many residential school students suffered physical, psychological and sexual abuse while at the schools. At various times between 1820 and 1969, the Anglican Church of Canada administered three dozen residential schools and hostels.
For many years, Indigenous communities in Canada have engaged the government and the churches in a process geared toward truth and reconciliation. In 1993 Primate Michael Peers issued an apology to Indigenous Peoples for the Anglican Church of Canada’s role in the residential school system. The Anglican Church was among the signatories to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement in 2006 and participated in the public hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC), across the country between 2008 and 2015. The final report of the TRC included 94 Calls to Action aimed at addressing the ongoing marginalization of Indigenous peoples in various aspects of Canadian life and society, several of which are explicitly directed toward Canadian churches. In particular, Call to Action #59 states:
“We call upon church parties to the Settlement Agreement to develop ongoing education strategies to ensure that their respective congregations learn about their church’s role in colonization, the history and legacy of residential schools, and why apologies to former residential school students, their families, and communities were necessary.”
The Anglican Church of Canada has compiled a number of excellent resources for churches interested in learning more about the relationship between our Church and Indigenous Peoples, including a Reconciliation Toolkit to help Anglicans along the ongoing journey of truth and reconciliation. Learn more here.
In the light of centuries of colonization and attempted assimilation, reconciliation is not something that can happen overnight. Yet it is something which, as a Church, we are called to do. As Christians, we know that apologies must be accompanied by action so that right relationship can be restored.