Sacred Circle

Bishop Linda NichollsBy Bishop Linda Nicholls

For four days in August I was invited to join indigenous elders, clergy and people from across Canada for the ninth Sacred Circle.

We gathered at the University of Northern B.C. in Prince George under a constant haze of smoke from forest fires nearby that daily affected the air quality and reminded us of the fragility of life, particularly as we heard about the destruction of houses in the area of Telegraph Creek. It was a painful privilege to share in this gathering tempered by the hopefulness and passion of the continuing move towards a self-determining indigenous church within the Anglican Church of Canada.

The principles that undergird Sacred Circle start with the gospel in the centre of the circle and community. Each day began using Gospel Based Discipleship (  for reflection on the gospel in light of the issues before us. The emphasis on every member engaged in discipleship, keeping the gospel in the centre of every decision, is one we need to follow!

Our Primate offered homilies at the beginning and end of the Circle that shared the arc of our Church’s history from the apology of 1993 made by Archbishop Michael Peers – 25 years ago to the day (August 6) – to the Covenant of 1994 indigenous leaders to seek self-determination to the seeds planted, watered and slowly growing of a fully indigenous church governed by indigenous spirituality. We concluded the Circle with a tribute to the Primate acknowledging his unwavering support for indigenous ministry during his Primacy.

Strong voices of wisdom and leadership called indigenous communities to claim their history, particularly a pre-colonial understanding of God that carried seeds with which to recognize Christ in their midst. Whenever possible indigenous languages were used for greetings, prayers, and presentations revealing the diversity of nations. Yet that stood alongside the pain for those who had lost their language due to the continuing generational effects of residential schools.

The gathering met in both plenary and focus groups where key issues such as the opioid crisis; climate change & resource extraction; missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls; marriage canon; suicide prevention; PWRDF; and governance for self-determination were explored. In the midst of heartbreaking stories of losses and pain were the stories of community work through programs and people committed to healing. At times the breadth and depth of the issues seemed overwhelming in comparison to the resources and programs available and our lack of time to enter these issues in depth.   Yet stories of hope, however small, and a challenge to the whole church to be engaged became the threads of future possibilities.

The voices of young adults were present in our midst throughout the gathering. Their passion to see change and their commitment to one another inspired further hope. They want deeper engagement with the elders of their communities to learn the traditions and stories of their history. They are also rooted in the present and the pains of their generation and asked for safe space for LGBTQ2+ youth in such gatherings.

Changes to Canon 22 will be presented to the Council of General Synod for inclusion in resolutions to General Synod 2019 to undergird changes to the office of the National Indigenous Bishop and strengthen the role of the Anglican Council of Indigenous People and Sacred Circle. Elections in each ecclesiastical province offered more diverse representation for ACIP for the next triennium, including a stronger presence of Inuit members. Huron communities continue to be represented by Dorothy Patterson (Six Nations) for 2018-2021.

Woven throughout our time was much laughter in a jam-packed schedule. Over meals (that included elk, bison, dried fish and meats & bannock!) there was time to meet, share and learn from one another.

This was my second Sacred Circle, as I was present as a staff member at Sacred Circle 2005 in Pinawa, Manitoba when the decision was taken to ask for a National Indigenous Bishop. Over the past two years I have been engaged with the indigenous communities of Huron on a steep learning curve of listening and seeking to understand more fully the aspirations of our communities. Attending this Sacred Circle has stretched me to hear and see how far we, as a Church, have come and still have to go. Huron has planted seeds already in the work of LAIC and Bridge Builders and we need to honour and support the good work being done within our communities in suicide prevention, music for youth, and language development.

However, we also need to address the racism that lives in our midst. Learning the history of indigenous peoples through the blanket exercise is a start – but only a first step.  Anglican Video presented an ‘almost final’ draft of a video resource on the Doctrine of Discovery and its ongoing effects in both indigenous communities and the country. It was powerful and deeply painful to watch as a non-indigenous person who has benefitted from that history. The video also showed the resilience of indigenous communities and hope for change.

I was challenged by how deeply the doctrine of discovery affects every aspect of all our lives and the possibility that repudiating it in our life today will free up both indigenous and non-indigenous people to find a new, healthier way of life for both our Church and our country. This will require us to listen – listen – and listen again to the voices of those peeling back the influence of telling the story of Canada only through the doctrine of discovery, as if we discovered and now own this land. We need to hear other stories – those of our indigenous sisters and brothers – not only for their health and well-being but also for ours. We need to examine our own lives and practices to identify the roots of racism that continues to live among us.

I urge every Anglican in Huron to commit to coming on the journey with our indigenous brothers and sisters. Read, mark, learn and inwardly digest a new way of seeing our life together.  When the video resource and study guide on the Doctrine of Discovery is available I will urge every deanery and parish to use it. Use Gospel Based Discipleship in parish life – in every gathering for discernment: deanery & parish councils; ACW meetings; youth events.

I am deeply grateful for the invitation to attend the Sacred Circle; for time with those from our Huron communities over meals & breaks to build relationships; and for the challenges that will lie on my heart to walk with our brothers & sisters in indigenous communities in the search for that wholeness that will only come when we together face the past and discern a new and different life for the future.