by Matt Gardner
In February 2015, the Anglican Diocese of Montreal hired a diocesan-sponsored clergyperson to focus exclusively on Indigenous ministries. Originally from the northern Quebec community of Kuujjuarapik in the Diocese of the Arctic, the Rev. Annie Ittoshat brings a strong cultural and professional background to her position as Aboriginal Community Minister. Her newly-created position offers a particular focus on ministry to the large population of Inuit in Montreal who have come from northern communities for employment opportunities, social services, or to seek medical treatment.
An alumnus of John Abbott College and Wycliffe College, where she became the first Inuk person to obtain a master of divinity degree, Ittoshat has helped bolster the outreach to Inuit residents through hospital visits, prison chaplaincy, and regular services in Inuktitut within the diocese of Montreal.
With the return from the Anglican Church of Canada Resolution Corporation, the diocese was able to extend its support for this vital ministry. This sign of support extends Ittoshat’s contract, covering the cost of the Aboriginal community minister further into the future.
Archdeacon Bill Gray estimated that the Diocese of Montreal had received a return of approximately $54,000.
“The money came from the residential school settlement [return],” Archdeacon Gray said. “So I think we wanted to use it in particular for something that would have that connection—something that would be connected to Aboriginal ministries and benefit the Indigenous communities.”
The decision to sponsor an Aboriginal community minister, he said, arose from a context of dedicated focus within the diocese to issues around Indigenous ministry and community, which coincided with the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
Along with the national response of the Anglican Church of Canada to the report’s Calls to Action, the Diocese of Montreal had made its own local response a priority.
“Annie was a key part of that reflection … giving us advice on what our response should be and raising the profile in our diocese as to the need to focus on this,” Gray said.
By the time the diocese decided it wanted to establish its Aboriginal community ministry, Ittoshat had become a trained and ordained Anglican priest, making her an ideal fit for ministry to the city’s Inuit population, many of whom are Anglican.
“There’s a big number of Inuit living in the south [of Quebec], and so there’s that need for the Inuit to have services,” said Ittoshat, who is currently based at the Parish of St. Andrew and St. Mark in Dorval.
The benefits for Inuit Anglicans of being able to hear services in their own language, delivered by a priest who shares their cultural background, are essential.
“We do understand each other, and I understand where they’re coming from, what they might have gone through,” Ittoshat said.
Besides offering worship services in Inuktitut, Ittoshat also regularly visits patients at local hospitals. She also makes monthly visits to serve as a chaplain to inmates at the federal prison in Laval.
Having had her initial one-year contract extended for an additional two years, Ittoshat indicated a wait-and-see approach as to whether she would continue as Aboriginal community minister past that point, based on the diocese’s assessment of whether there is an ongoing need.
“At this moment, it’s a perfect time to be here, and it feels right … I really appreciate being here.