THUNDER BAY – Yesterday, January 19, the Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, Alvin Fiddler, noted that the Anglican Church of Canada shares responsibility for the crisis in the communities he serves, and especially for the tragic number of young people who have died by suicide. We acknowledge that our past actions have helped to create a legacy of brokenness in some First Nations communities, and we express our willingness, in spite of failings and false starts in the past, to renew our commitment to dialogue and discernment that will help us understand more deeply and act more effectively on our responsibilities.
Over a period that spanned the 1970s and 1980s, Ralph Rowe, then an Anglican priest and a Boy Scout leader, abused young Indigenous boys in more than a dozen communities in Northwestern Ontario. We know that the trauma he inflicted was not only on persons, but also on communities, and that its impact is intergenerational.
The Anglican Church of Canada has, since it became aware of the nature and scope of Ralph Rowe’s abuse, been actively concerned about its impact.
Ralph Rowe was trained as a pilot in the Royal Canadian Air Force, and served with the Ontario Provincial Police on Manitoulin Island in the 1960s. He served as a missionary pilot prior to studying at Wycliffe College, and was ordained in 1975. He also served as a Scout Master with the Boy Scouts of Canada.
Ralph Rowe’s abuse was massive in its scope and horrendous in its impact, and we owe a debt of gratitude to those who with great courage have borne witness to that abuse, and continue to help us understand our moral obligation as the Anglican Church of Canada to support initiatives that address its continuing consequences.
To that end, in 1996 the Anglican Church of Canada engaged in an extended process of mediation with the people of one of the communities most affected, Wunnumin Lake First Nation.
The Anglican Church of Canada’s Healing Fund has supported community-led healing projects in Wunnamin Lake (1997), across several First Nations (2005), in Sachigo Lake (2007), in Kingfisher Lake (2010), and in Sioux Lookout (2013).
In response to the continued need for healing and in recognition that similar abuse, especially through the Indian Residential Schools, creates an obligation for our church to support the victims and their communities, the Council of General Synod, the national governing body of our church, has authorized a special appeal to renew the financial capacity of the Anglican Healing Fund, so that it may continue to make grants beyond the completion of its court-mandated obligations in 2017.
The Anglican Church of Canada currently supports two suicide prevention coordinators in northern Indigenous communities, working in partnership with the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention and the Centre for Suicide Prevention, and with tribal councils, governments, health and social service agencies, community groups and faith groups. The work is grounded in Indigenous cultural practice, working with Indigenous communities to discern what resources and practices will serve them best.
In 2014, the ministry of the Diocese of Keewatin, the diocese that Ralph Rowe served, came to an end. In its place emerged an Indigenous jurisdiction within the Anglican Church of Canada, the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh. The Bishop of Mishamikoweesh, the Right Reverend Lydia Mamakwa, was chosen by Indigenous leaders and members of the community in a manner consistent with Indigenous practices of discernment.
The Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, intends to continue a process of engagement with Bishop Lydia Mamakwa to renew a way forward that will lead to a formal national apology to the victims of Ralph Rowe and to their communities.
We know that Grand Chief Fiddler’s call to our church and to our government to live more fully into our obligations comes from a heart that is broken by the tragic deaths of children. Whatever our words, we will only have honoured that grief when we act, and we look to him and to others to help us direct our actions in ways that will help end the crisis in the communities he serves.
The Anglican Church of Canada