Fort Qu'Appelle, Saskatchewan - Nearly 180 native Canadian members of the Anglican Church of Canada, from some of the most isolated corners of the country, have discovered they share in common an embattled but surviving sense of native identity, and a deep-rooted Christian faith.
The delegates to the first National Convocation of native Canadian Anglicans spent seven days here, worshipping together, sharing stories, and discussing their future in the Church. Many of them are fifth-, sixth- or even seventh-generation Anglicans.
"Some of these people have never been outside their isolated northern communities before," explained the Rev. Laverne Jacobs, co-ordinator of native ministries for the national church, and a member of the Walpole Island band of the Chippewa nation.
"To be able to share their problems - and their faith - and to find they are not alone in the church, has been a tremendously empowering experience for them."
The convocation's message to the wider church stressed the value of the work done by native clergy, and the desire of native Anglicans for more voice in the decision and policy-making bodies of the church.
Several of the specific issues the delegates asked the church to address included: financial support for native ministry; improved communications among native Anglicans, and between themselves and the hierarchical structures; the need for a full-fledged native bishop; abortion and marriage breakdown; and aboriginal rights.
They also asked for support for a second convocation to be held in three years, with more youth participation.
At the Church's General Synod in 1989, to be held in St. John's, Newfoundland, the convocation will ask that a minute of silence be observed in memory of the Beothuk Indians, who once inhabited that province until they were completely exterminated by white settlers.
Most native people in the Anglican Church have suffered a long history of isolation and paternalism. Ironically, for example, while there was much talk at the convocation about the importance of aboriginal identity and culture, the many worship services during the meeting reflected English traditions. Early missionaries from Britain outlawed traditional native practices as pagan and sacrilegious.
Again and again during the conference, participants affirmed their conviction that the God of traditional native spirituality and the God of the Christian Gospels were - and are - one and the same. There was some commitment made to the recovery and integration into Anglican liturgy of traditional native forms of prayer and worship.
One positive aspect of the impact of the Anglican Church has been the preservation of native languages by the translation of the Gospels and prayer books into Cree, Inuktitut and other aboriginal languages.
Cree and Ojibway people from northern Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan made up the bulk of the delegates, with others from among the Six Nations of southern Ontario and Quebec, from the Haida, Git'ksan and Nisga'a of northwestern British Columbia, the Dene Nation of the Yukon and North West Territories, and Blackfoot of Alberta.
Two Inuit delegates from the Arctic participated as observers. In addition, four outside partners attended: Sister Eva Solomon, a Roman Catholic and an Ojibway; the Rev. Alf Dumont of the United Church of Canada, an Ojibway; Bishop William Wantland of the Episcopal Church of the USA and a Seminole; and Haakopa Te Whata, a Maori from the Anglican Church Aotearoa/New Zealand.
Native people account for about 3.4 per cent of the membership of the Anglican Church of Canada, the highest native membership rate in any major denomination, and largely the result of historic mission connections.