St. James’ Church is a special place for many Indigenous people because we see it as a safe place, given that it has had connections to our communities in BC through different priests working in our Indigenous villages. This is especially true for us, as Nisga’a people living in the Metro Vancouver area, because several former St. James’ priests lived in our villages in the Nass Valley in the 1960s and 1970s. Most were adopted into our Clans and given Indigenous names. Archbishop Hambidge, Fr. George Robinson, Fr. David Retter and of course Fr. John Blyth all spent time in the homelands of our Nisga’a People.
They lived a long time with our people and learned our protocols (Ayuukhl) and our ceremonies. They were priests amongst us without making us forget our traditions, but rather they learned how to be a Nisga’a. Yes, our connections to St. James’ Church are deep, and still today our priests get calls for supports when our people are in need, when we are in hospitals, or for baptisms, funerals and memorials.
The biggest honour was given to Fr. David Retter when he passed away. Many Nisga’a leaders and families came down to say their goodbyes to him. He was given a memorial that is usually given to our Chiefs and Matriarchs. A young Fr. Clarence Li had to setup the funeral and feast, which were a combination of Christian and Nisga’a practices. He connected to our people very quickly, as our people saw his passion and heart and his respect for our protocols.
St. James’ parishioner, Fr. John Blyth, is still a big part of our community and he is always invited to our Nisga’a ceremonies and feasts. Families that have moved to Vancouver invite him to their family dinners and important events. Though he left many years ago from Aiyansh, he is still our beloved “Fr. B.”
Later on, a Metis priest became part of our St. James’ community. Fr. Douglas Fenton, currently Diocesan Executive Archdeacon, made a special connection to us by learning what our people needed, especially in the Downtown Eastside. He was the first president of the Coming Home Society, and he also became a part of our family.
More recently Fr. Matthew has made a big impact in the Downtown Eastside Community. He has let Indigenous people know there is safety and a welcome in our St. James’ community.
Our Kwhlii Gibaygum Nisga’a dancers have practised at St. James’ church hall and we feel that is our home. Fr. Kevin has opened this church to our Indigenous peoples and made us welcome. He has made a great deal of effort to accommodate our traditions and protocols around funerals and other ceremonies. He has respected and sought direction from our Elders, such as Kelvin Bee, and our Knowledge Keepers, such as Keane Tait. The carved Nisga’a mask inside our front doors is a sign of this church’s special relationship with Indigenous peoples.
We owe so many thanks to all the St. James’ priests that have given us the freedom to regain our culture as well as engage in our spiritual faith through our church.
Thank you to all of you at St. James’ Church.
Amaa hli satkwhl Aluugigat (Happy Indigenous Day)
Nii K’an Kwsdins (aka our own Jerry Adams)