The Global Indigenous Church

mandela02Reverend Tamsyn Kereopa recently attended the biannual meeting of the Anglican Indigenous Network in Christchurch. Here, along with a timely tribute to Nelson Mandela, are her thoughts.

In 1998, then President Nelson Mandela was awarded an honorary Degree from Harvard University. Characteristically defiant in graciousness, his powerful acceptance speech reminded the global community that despite great gains, there is still much work to be done:

The greatest single challenge facing our globalized world is to combat and eradicate disparity.  While in all parts of the world progress has been made in enhancing democratic forms of government, we constantly need to remind ourselves that the freedom which democracy brings will remain empty shells if they are not accompanied by real and tangible improvement of the material lives of the millions of ordinary citizens of those countries.  Men and women and children go burdened with hunger, suffering from preventable diseases, languishing in ignorance and illiteracy, and finding themselves bereft of shelter.  Talk of democracy and freedom that does not recognize these material aspects can ring hollow and erode the confidence exacted in those values we seek to promote.  Hence our universal obligation towards the building of a world in which there shall be greater equality among nations and among citizens of nations.

During the abomination that was Apartheid, as I’m sure you all know, the African people living in South Africa effectively lived as third class citizens in their own country.  After the over 40 year struggle of the ANC, democracy was instituted and Apartheid abolished, making for equal political rights and opportunities for all people regardless of race, gender or creed.  The utopia achieved by the revolution of ordinary citizens, although not entirely complete, was instituted by the very man criminalized and abused as a treasonous outlaw.  It is easy to overlook the fact, however, that the justice system which enslaved generations is one not completely unlike that which casts our own Indigenous people as either a drain and/or treasonous in uprising, and who continue to treat them as second class citizens. Despite great gains in modern times and despite post-colonial theory and the so called “Indigenous renaissance”, there is a growing paradox of contempt for Indigenous communities globally. Moreover statistics still point to a larger percentage of poverty, suicide, oppression and abuse in many of the Indigenous communities and peoples represented at the most recent AIN – and without getting into the many harrowing stories and histories, this is some of the context in which Anglican Indigenous representatives from Hawaii, America, Canada, Torres Strait Island, Australia and New Zealand met in Christchurch last week. 

The history of the AIN is a political journey of faith that is far from over.  Unfortunately under resourcing and the lack of any real finance has halted progress of the Network significantly, but this years’ quite practical resolutions I think are significant and have set the Network on a firmer footing for future success and impact at a global level.  One such discussion was around responding to the Anglican Consultative Council’s invitation to report back at the next meeting.  Specifically, there was discussion around responding with a request that the ACC adopt the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Rights and implement all that adherence to those articles would require from the global church.  To me this would be a revolutionary foot on which Indigenous people would have to stand in future negotiations around resourcing and self-determination in our world-wide Anglican Communion.  Of note however, is the fact that all of the nations represented at the Network were the very ones whose governments denied support of the UN Declaration of Indigenous Rights at its inception. 

There were also decisions made about how best to move forward in terms of governance, with a new Secretariat – the leadership of the new Secretary General Bishop John Gray, himself an advocate for Tikanga Maori rights here in the Church of New Zealand, Aotearoa and Polynesia, and the Administrative support of Charles Hemana.  While seemingly simple, these changes have the potential to greatly alter the efficiency and effectiveness of the Network both locally and globally.  And this is really what the AIN is about.  It is about Indigenous people supporting each other in the struggle toward self-determination and Tino-Rangatiratanga across the globe.  We recognize the responsibility we have for freedom and justice in this our global village, not simply in our own back yard.  In this spirit, alliances were made between countries who have agreed to support each other towards achieving greater Indigenous autonomy, power and self-determination in their respective churches.  It is also in this spirit that I think we in the Pihopatanga have, and must, realize our own responsibility, not only to ourselves, but to Indigenous communities that might not find themselves as far down the track to self-determination as we are.  There is in my view perhaps the temptation, due in no small part to the difficulties of our own struggle, to be insular and self-focussed.  In our post-tribal society and world, the need for inter-national brotherhood and sisterhood is not only required, but a necessary part of Christian life, and the only way toward global transformation.  Perhaps this is one of the challenges that the AIN presents to us, Te Pihopatanga o Aotearoa. 

However, notwithstanding a critique of the dominant partners in our churches, we must perhaps also ask about our own attempts and visioning – does the way we are currently proceeding, the direction in which we are taking ourselves as Indigenous people – specifically as Maori in Te Pihopatanga, need critique?  Does the Pihopatanga for example currently embody the values of freedom, justice, peace and love that are the very platform on which we argue for self-determination?  Or are we, in being content with this form, content to allow the inadequacies and injustices that remain in our own governance and leadership, and the apparent lack of relevancy to our own people?  As we have seen from the failures, inadequacies and flat out injustice and fraud in many of our self-determining Maori efforts and initiatives, self-determination does not necessarily make for utopia. On the contrary, these are questions we need to constantly ask ourselves – self critique is an  essential part of our enduring success.    

This questioning might be helped by listening to other nations in the Network – our sister church in Canada for instance is characterized by the determination to be consciously unlike the mother church in many ways – and therein perhaps lies much of its success.  This is possibly one reason they have already voted in their first indigenous woman bishop – a realization yet to be achieved by Te Pihopatanga.  Surely our self-determination must require a unique way of being Christian Maori also, rather than defaulting to the status quo way of doing church – with a Maori face.  In this way the Network encourages us to look at ourselves critically.   

Overall my experience at the AIN reminded me of the importance of global sisterhood and brotherhood, and of our shared experiences of oppression and disfranchisement.  But it also reminded me quite powerfully of the potency of our shared humanity and capacity for transformation.  The Pihopatanga, despite its own current context and struggles, remains an instrument of intense potential at a global level – even beyond the church – and although our own struggles remain to be worked through, we, I think, must own the responsibilities we have to our Indigenous brothers and sisters all over the world.  My own hope is that our Pihopatanga, our people, and the global Indigenous community will one day, despite our struggles, be able to stand with our arms open, but until then, and despite reports to the contrary from dominant partners in our churches, there is much work toward justice for Indigenous peoples still to be done.

The loss of Nelson Mandela has left the world poorer.  His life and legacy inspire us all, not least of all us, as Indigenous, political, and Christian beings, towards a more free, just, peaceful, and loving humanity.  The challenge is this:

“Where human beings are being oppressed, there is more work to be done.  It is in your hands now”.

- Nelson Mandela, 1918-2013

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