Sacred Circles are national gatherings of Indigenous Anglicans for prayer, worship, discernment, and decision-making. Hundreds of participants gather for these meetings every two to three years. This year’s August Circle was held in Port Elgin, Ontario. All three Indigenous groups — First Nations, Metis, and Inuit — were present at the weeklong event, in addition to bishops from across the country. There were six Rupert’s Landers who attended: Barbara Shoomski, Donald Phillips, Murray Still, Sylvia James, Tanis Kolisnyk, and Vincent Solomon.
For the veteran members of the Sacred Circle, the event represented the culmination of the vision of the Elders some 25 years ago. In the years since the National Native Covenant, the national Church has adopted Canon 22, which incorporates the office of a National Indigenous Bishop, the Sacred Circle, and the Anglican Council of Indigenous People (ACIP). We saw Canon 22 in action at the Sacred Circle, as Bishop Mark MacDonald acted for the first time as presider of the gathering. Sacred Circle members elected new ACIP representatives, realizing the Canon will need revision to allow for greater representation from the largest province, the Province of Rupert’s Land.
Another significant development at this Sacred Circle was the discussion around the formation of a fifth province for the Anglican Church of Canada, which will be non-geographical and include Indigenous Anglicans across the nation. The vision of the Elders was of a self-determination which includes Indigenous governance and greater incorporation of Indigenous culture and spirituality within the Church.
The Circle itself was an amazing time of prayer, discernment and fellowship. We were uplifted by hearing stories of answered prayer and the overcoming of the many walls that Indigenous Anglicans face within the Church. We have certainly come a long way, but the road to self-determination is still marred by obstacles that seek to keep our voice silent and our sacred ceremonies outside.
Barbara Shoomski, the only Rupert’s Lander to attend all eight of the National Circles, led the pastoral care team this year and considers herself privileged to be part of such a network of friends and colleagues from across the country. Tanis Kolisnyk, on the other hand, attended the National Circle for the first time this year, and was able to make connections with other Metis clergy from across the country. Tanis, who recently completed her Master’s thesis on Indigenous self-determination, attended with an excitement to learn from those who have gone ahead of her on the complex path of striving to honour both our Indigenous ways of knowing God and our Christian values and beliefs.
We cried together as we heard stories of struggle, and we reviewed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s findings, trying to prioritize the 94 Calls to Action. We affirmed each other, celebrated Indigenous identity around the Sacred Fire, and listened to the teachings offered by the Elders. We laughed a lot too, and enjoyed the company of our youth delegates.
Sylvia James, who has served on the Anglican Council of Indigenous People for nine years, has stepped aside to make room for new leadership this year. She leaves the Council with mixed feelings, proud of the accomplishments she has witnessed at the national level. She continues to sit on the Rupert’s Land Indigenous Circle.
Participants left the gathering with a profound sense of God’s presence and guidance and of inclusion on this path to wholeness and reconciliation. We continue on this journey together, one in Christ Jesus. Thanks be to God!
Barbara Shoomski, Murray Still, Sylvia James, Tanis Kolisnyk, and Vincent Solomon