Indigenous relations in spotlight for Catholic bishops

The Canadian delegation that attended a recent International Conference on Catholic Indigenous Ministry included Indigenous representatives as well as two Catholic bishops. (Submitted photo)

By The B.C. Catholic

[Canadian Catholic News] – Canada’s Catholic bishops are restructuring their Indigenous council to include a new “Indigenous consultant” and increase the ratio of Indigenous members as they look at their pastoral care of Indigenous communities during their annual plenary assembly.

Increasing Indigenous representation on the council to 75 per cent from the current half-Indigenous and half-bishops proportion will allow the bishops to hear more Indigenous perspectives, Saskatoon Bishop Mark Hagemoen recently told Crux Catholic news agency.

Hagemoen, who chairs the CCCB’s Structure of Engagement with Indigenous Peoples committee, said the changes are intended to “help move things along,” and that while there is no time frame, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians expect action.

The bishops spent part of the second day of their annual Plenary Assembly Sept. 25-28 addressing Indigenous issues, including the national Indigenous Reconciliation Fund and the pastoral accompaniment of Indigenous peoples.

Calgary Bishop William McGrattan said at the national level more than $11 million has been collected and more than 60 projects across Canada have been funded already.

“It’s at the local level that healing forgiveness and reconciliation will be possible,” said McGrattan. “That’s what our Holy Father said in his penitential pilgrimage here: the real work begins at the local level and in many ways the indigenous reconciliation fund is a means to promote that on our diocesan level and in our country.”

Bishop Mark Hagemoen of Saskatoon was part of the Canadian delegation to the International Conference on Catholic Indigenous Ministry, which brought together Catholic bishops and Indigenous representatives from Australia, New Zealand, the U.S., and Canada. (Submitted photo, Canadian Catholic News – CCN)

Hagemoen spent the days leading up to the assembly addressing Indigenous issues at the International Conference on Catholic Indigenous Ministry in Washington, DC., where Catholic Indigenous organizations came together with Catholic bishops from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States from Sept 19 to 21.

Organizers said the gathering was an historic milestone that advanced dialogue, learning, and fellowship among Church representatives who work with Indigenous-Catholic communities.

Hosted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee on Native American Affairs, the purpose of the gathering was to share experiences, ideas, resources, and best practices encountered in the relationship between the Catholic Church and Indigenous communities.

Also representing Canada were Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton and Indigenous representatives Rosella Kinoshameg of Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory, Ojibway/Odawa, Giselle Marion of Tłı̨chǫ First Nation, Behchokǫ̀, NWT, and Graydon Nicholas of Welastoqiyik, Neqotkok.

“It was an honour to be here together along with the other representatives from the Native and Indigenous communities,” said Nicholas, a Wolastoquey Elder who is former Lieutenant-Governor of New Brunswick and a member of Our Lady of Guadalupe Circle, a coalition of Catholic organizations and individuals working to renew and foster relationships with Indigenous Peoples in Canada.

Nicholas said he was grateful for the opportunity to discuss common themes among participants’ respective countries, while Bishop Hagemoen called the gathering “the beginning of what we all hope will be a developing discussion – sharing histories, challenges, and pathways of healing and hope. It was inspiring to be present for such sharing.”

Part of the agenda was a listening session for the bishops to hear from representatives of Catholic Indigenous organizations. The aim is to create a path for ministry to Indigenous peoples at the international level. Topics emphasized the importance of being both Catholic and Indigenous and included evangelization, education, reconciliation, healing, inculturation, as well as reflection on social concerns such as poverty, racism, and the environment.

The conference was an opportunity for dialogue, which “fostered a better understanding of the relationship between the Church and Indigenous peoples,” said Archbishop Smith. “My hope is that the conversations we had during this meeting can bring us closer together towards a path of dialogue and reconciliation. It was another opportunity to hear directly from the Indigenous peoples of Canada and other countries. This event was a reminder to walk together with our Indigenous peoples on the path to healing towards a future full of hope.”