by John E. Montgomery
Rev. Rosalyn Elm is the newest member of the clergy team at St. Paul’s Cathedral, joining as an assistant curate this fall. Rosalyn stands out because she is the first indigenous woman educated and ordained in the Diocese of Huron, but her presence also counters the missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada.
Rosalyn is from the Oneida First Nation. Her biography brings many important parts of both Aboriginal and Anglican life together. Her mother Olive is a hereditary clan mother, an elected band official and a teacher and curator of the Oneida language and culture. She has held positions as lay delegate to Synod, and various committees and diocesan council.
Rosalyn’s father Leslie, who was a building inspector serving numerous northern communities in Ontario and an elected band official, served as lay delegate to Synod. He is descended from the Elm Williams family that donated land for Zion, Oneida, in the 1800s. Rosalyn is the youngest of five children. She has two brothers Leslie III, (d) Terry, Tracy and Joanne.
I interviewed Rosalyn in September in her new office.
Tell me about the indigenous perspective toward women as leaders?
Women in our tradition, in our Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) culture, are the leadership. It is a matrilineal society. In our context Haudenosaunee women are powerful, they have a voice, they have a right to choose. The idea of being marginalized is very strange and very discomforting because very much in our traditional communities, women provide support to men and men provide support to women, and both men and women together care for children. It’s just something we do. We feel that this a symbiotic relationship.
It is difficult to explain because we don’t want to discount the fact that there are so many indigenous women who are marginalized by men, both non-native and native men. For our people, marginalization affects men and women differently, but overall marginalization leads to a loss of hope, of strength and faith. When men and women lose hope in their contexts and then come together, often times it can become disastrous.
Describe what faith means for you and how it shapes your life?
We as indigenous people always believed that good rather than bad would happen to us. We always had hope, even in the face of incredible uncertainty. Sometimes there is a lot of game to hunt and sometimes there is very little game to hunt, but somehow we are going to make it through. We believe that our Creator provides for us and just enough for our families and the seven generations.
Faith is a journey and I’ve always been on this journey. My parents were very faithful people and they always encouraged that in me. I’m both an Anglican and Haudenosaunee.
I’ve been mentored and taught in this journey by many grandfathers, grandmothers, and many fathers and mothers (as well as ) elders in my community, the language teachers, storytellers, medicine keepers, traditional leaders. Not to mention the elders whom I have learned with at Huron College and those within the Diocese of Huron. They are all so significant that I can see their faces and our time together in my mind now. I have many prayers, and love and gratitude for these men and women.
In terms of what is exemplified in Scripture for me, like Paul, I’m a follower of Christ. That is what I am. It’s the easiest choice to make, but it is sometimes the hardest to live by — every day to live it and be thankful for God’s grace for my past and future.
We all may say God grounds us or Christian practice grounds us. What grounds you?
I could say that right now God’s truth grounds me, it grounds me and keeps me whole and God is that truth.
When I say truth, I need to be able to speak that truth and be able to come to terms with my truth, but I also need to come to terms with other truths, because I recognize that there is something bigger going on here.
It is awareness of others and awareness of self. My awareness and self-awareness is grounded in our Creator, and of my “creaturely-ness” as an image of God. My hope and faith rest in the expanse of our Creator God.
Sherri Doxtator, chief of the Oneida Nation of the Thames, said, “As leaders, and especially as a woman leader, I feel it’s time that the women express how they really feel and share what’s on their mind and start the dialogue.” (London Free Press, Sept. 10, 2015). What does the situation of the missing and murdered indigenous women mean for you?
This is yet another story of loss, of marginalization, of oppression. However when I hear Chief Doxtator’s message this is one of hope. As women leaders we are the conveners of dialogue. This is a call for resistance against violence against indigenous women.
For us, as Christian men and women, it is a call for incarnational intent. The actions we take whether it is to learn, to teach, to create is to strengthen the marginalized to have courage on behalf of those who may not, and to hold their hope when too weary to take it.
Like Chief Doxtator, I feel a strong calling to connect and dialogue. For myself (it is) to build bridges between non-indigenous Christians and indigenous Christians and traditional keepers of the Onkwehonwe-neha. To build bridges over the barrier of difference respecting both cultures and traditions because I am of both a follower of Christ named as Christ’s own and a Haudenosaunee Onkwehonwe. I can’t be as anything else. This is how I was created and this is what will inform my ministry.
The ministry and community of Rev. Rosalyn Elm helps us understand the importance of accepting the rhythm of both Creator God and created world as vital to us. Hope, faith, and truth as discussed here give us resources to approach and engage the activities and events going on around us.
— John E. Montgomery is a member of Huron Diocese’s Bridge Builders and a parishioner of of St. Hilda’s and St. Luke’s in St. Thomas.