National Aboriginal Day of Prayer in the Anglican Diocese of Huron, Canada Oneida Nation of the Thames, 11 June 2006

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National Aboriginal Day of Prayer in the Anglican diocese of Huron, Canada Oneida Nation of the Thames, 11 June 2006

During the Red Power period of the 1960s, a controversial Christian group called the Indian Ecumenical Conference sought to detach liturgical worship from the culture of the colonizers and to connect it instead to native traditions. (The IEC has recently been described and defended by James Treat in Around the Sacred Fire, 2003.) Among other things, the group proposed a "national Indian day of prayer," to be observed every year on June 21, the summer solstice, a day significant for much native religion. In 1971 this recommendation was carried by the archdeacon of Saskatchewan, Andrew Ahenakew, a Cree, to the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada, which approved it. In 1982 the principal representative body of First Nations peoples in Canada also began taking an interest in June 21. The National Indian Brotherhood, as it was then called, and its successor the Assembly of First Nations, advocated an annual national day of aboriginal solidarity to be celebrated at the summer solstice, the day "when the seeds of our future sustenance have been sown and grow in this land which is ours since time immemorial." Some hoped that such a celebration might supplant Victoria Day, the commemoration of a queen whose governments routinely violated its treaties with Indians. In 1996 the governor-general of Canada did finally declare an annual National Aboriginal Day on 21 June. This observance therefore coincides with what is now called the National Aboriginal Day of Prayer.

In the Canadian constitution, "aboriginal" comprehends three general groups. The largest is the First Nations peoples, formerly called North American Indians. This umbrella category includes about 630 First Nations (formerly called Indian bands) representing over fifty different cultural groups and languages. There are very roughly a million First Nations people in Canada; precise numbers are unavailable partly because many who qualify for status under the Indian Act don't register, and partly because census-takers aren't always welcome on First Nations territory. The next aboriginal group in size is the meus, formerly called, by English-speakers, half-breeds, of whom there are about 300,000. The third group is the Inuit, formerly called Eskimo, of whom there are about 45,000. About 30 percent of aboriginals live on a reserve (as it is called in Canada, in preference to the term "reservation" used in the United States).

The diocese of Huron in southwestern Ontario, which is, by membership, the second largest diocese in the Anglican Church of Canada, includes a surprising diversity of First Nations churches. The group with the longest history in the region is the Ojibwe. The Great Lakes is their historic heartland, and their territory was once the largest of any native group north of Mexico. They were evangelized by Jesuits in the days of New France, and by anglophone Protestants after the American Revolution. Today the diocese of Huron has Anglican churches on Ojibwe reserves on the Thames River southwest of London, at Kettle Point near Sarnia, and at Walpole Island in a river delta of Lake St. Clair (a reserve which the Ojibwe share with two fellow Algonkian peoples, the Potawatomi and Odawa). The other First Nations groups in the area are relative newcomers, refugees from homelands elsewhere. The Five Nations Confederacy, which the French called the Iroquois-the Mohawk, Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, and Oneida-were living in upstate New York, principally along the Mohawk River, when Europeans first met them. (Their story is told well by Dean R. Snow, The Iroquois, 1994.) In about 1720, they were joined by the Tuscarora from North Carolina. Through the ministrations of some unusually fine missionaries of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, many Iroquois, particularly the Mohawks, became Anglican. Most chose the losing side in the War of Independence and were forced from their homes; His Majesty's government gave them a million acres of land along the Grand River in what is now Ontario. …