The United Church of Canada

Gathering at the Edge of the Woods: Welcoming Newcomers to the Territory

After Saturday’s Festival of Faith, the 43rd General Council began in the area of the Williams Treaty (Oshawa, ON). For the first time in recent General Council history, the opening worship began with an Indigenous ceremony: gathering at the Edge of the Woods.

Elder Rev. Grafton Antone, from Oneida of the Thames First Nation, and his family recognized the land on which the General Council meets. Cathie Cunningham from Rama First Nation and Adrian Jacobs from Six Nations welcomed the people from across Turtle Island, newcomers, and global partners participating in GC43.

Elder Rev. Grafton Antone began the ceremony by offering a smudge to the Indigenous peoples from nations across Turtle Island, from all Four Directions. Acting as the Messenger, Elder Rev. Grafton asked the people of this territory if he could invite those visitors onto the land, for which they approved. After inviting the Indigenous peoples to the land, he then turned to the newcomers present—the Moderator of The United Church of Canada and Conference Executive Secretaries—to invite them to meet on this land in a good way.

The Rt. Rev. Jordan Cantwell was offered tissues to cleanse her eyes to see the good, to cleanse her mouth to speak the truth, and to cleanse her ears to hear the good. The Moderator thanked Elder Grafton for the offering of the Two Row Wampum Belt: neither group will force their laws, traditions, customs, or language on the other, but will coexist peacefully and follow their own paths.

Cathie Cunningham and Adrian Jacobs then led in the Indigenous commissioners to the 43rd General Council, with the global partners in attendance, followed by the Moderator and Conference Executive Secretaries, while Elders Rev. Grafton and Eileen Antone, Rosalind Antone, Tonya Antone, Dawn Antone, Elva Mae Antone, Elwood Antone, and Sakoieta Widrick sang the Peace Hymn in Mohawk throughout the procession.

The significance of opening this 43rd General Council with a traditional ceremony strengthens the autonomy and self-determination that the Indigenous church is seeking. Later in the day, the commissioners will vote on the Calls to the Church proposed by the Aboriginal Ministries Council. This proposal calls for The United Church of Canada to encourage traditional practices within its Indigenous communities of faith, further education for the wider church on Indigenous spirituality and culture, and live out the principles outlined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: free, prior, and informed consent.

“Beginning with ceremony is a way for the United Church to uphold the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action,” says Elder Rev. Grafton Antone.

Opening worship with an Indigenous ceremony should not go unnoticed. As we consider the work of the Aboriginal Ministries Council and the Caretakers of Our Indigenous Circle over this past triennium, the time has come to recognize the peoples of Turtle Island and the truth of living into covenant and all my relations.