Timiskaming First Nation, Canada. 5th April 2022 was a day-long pilgrimage for Msgr. Joseph Ferdinand Guy Boulanger, Bishop of Rouyn-Noranda, on the sacred land of Timiskaming First Nation, situated close to the municipality of Notre-Dame-du Nord.
The day started around 09:05 with a warm welcome to the bishop by Vice-Chief Christine Chevrier and some councilors (Colleen Polson & Gerald Hanbury) at the band’s office. After a chat with them, the bishop went to celebrate Mass at the Anishinaabe Long Term Care Center (ALTCC).
In his sermon, he shared four things from the Gospel of the 5th Sunday of Lent, making a significant connection with the Native People’s spirituality and lifestyle. In the first one, he said that SILENCE is important for the Natives as Jesus was silent when many asked to condemn the woman who got into adultery.
“Silence helps us discern the event and respond positively.”
The second one was about the GROUND-AKI, which is very important for Native people who consider themselves Guardians of Land. The third one was about the ELDERS and their wisdom which is a treasure for the community. Through experiences, they understand the history and its impacts on people and the land while they are ready to live the changes and transformations for a better society. The fourth one was about FORGIVENESS.
“We need to implore God’s forgiveness, and at the same time, we should be ready to forgive one another, which leads us to a true Reconciliation,” he said.
During the Mass, a beautiful small statue of Kateri Tekakwitha was blessed by the bishop, which will be placed at the community’s chapel. The community will celebrate its 50th active ministry (presence of a priest throughout the year) in 2024 because previously, it used to be a kind of summer ministry in many of the reserves.
After the Mass, the bishop had a typical gathering with the residents where people asked him different questions, and he answered them back. A lunch followed it with the residents, for which Fr. Rénal Dufour joined them. They were served moose meat as a main dish and bannock (traditional bread). After lunch, the bishop met with people who wanted to talk to him personally.
At around 13:30, the bishop met with some Elders of the community at the Senior’s Unit. It was a significant and fraternal gathering wherein people shared some of the stories about how they were brought up in the bush, the traditional ceremonies, etc. The seniors do a lot of handcrafts products to raise money to sponsor different projects in the community. For example, they gave $30,000 to the health department this year.
The bishop said, “I have come here with a lot of humility and thanks for accepting me amidst you. I make my own, too, the apologies that have been already expressed by my brethren bishops of Canada and the Pope. And I am here to listen to your testimonies and stories”.
Then the councilor Colleen Polson gave them a tour of the community to make them visit some important places: the health center, the school, the pow-wow ground, the youth center, etc. After the tour, the bishop had some more time for the one-to-one meeting, which was helpful for some people. They were given a brief explanation of how “sweat lodge” is used, how it is done, and how people benefit from this traditional liberation ceremony.
Fr. Reegan Soosai, CMF, the Claretian Pastor of Algonquin Catholic Missions of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, TFN & St. Anne, LPFN (Winneway), recounted:
“Susanne Polson prepared a delicious dinner. The Vice-chief Christine Chevrier, some councilors (Colleen Polson & Jennilee Wahsquonaikezhik), and some guests were present during the dinner. We had a lot of fun and talked about different things. We learned that Rouyn-Noranda was part of the Traditional Land of Timiskaming First Nation. Also, there was some talk about how to bring back the Algonquin language to the community. And for this, a new Algonquin Language Coordinator has been appointed.”
One of the councilors told us that “there are a lot of activities going on in the community for youth, elders, and children. We have the community’s interest at the heart of our thinking and action. The existential vulnerability united us more and more,” Fr. Soosai continued.
The Council gifted a pair of moccasins to Msgr. Boulanger, which was very fitting to his size. It is also a symbol of inviting him and the Church to walk with Native People in a true fraternity.
Msgr. Guy Boulanger thanked everyone for their warm welcoming, generosity, and kindness in accepting him to walk with them. The Council asked him to revisit the community. The Council also thanked Msgr. Guy Boulanger for his availability, friendliness, and the pastoral visit.
Fr. Reegan Soosai, CMF, thanked the Chief and Council for their 3 Ts: Time, Talent, and Treasure.
“Kitchi Meegwetch, Marsha Wabie of the Senior’s unit, Lorri Hamelin and Jessie Bond of ALTCC, and Jolene Polson, the secretary, for coordinating everything. Special and sincere thanks to Chief Arden McBride for his enthusiasm to make this visit happen even though he was not present because of his other commitments.”
“We would like to thank all those who came to meet Bishop Boulanger and make this day memorable. Overall, it was a day full of blessings from Creator-God to everyone. We hope to continue this pilgrimage of Love, Respect, Truth, Humility, Healing, Wisdom, and Reconciliation.”
The bishop’s visit came to an end at 18:45, full of joy and hope!
Timiskaming First Nation has 2,250 members, of which 750 peoples live on the reserve and 200 people work in different community departments. There are about 100 children in the school. There is a project of United Police Station of three First Nation Communities: Timiskaming First Nation, Long Point First Nation, and Kebaowek (Kipawa) First Nation.
The Claretians wish them all the best and implore the Creator’s blessing upon them so that they may take forward all these beautiful projects that seek more unity and more economical and political independence.
Kitchi Meegwetch/Merci beaucoup
News from Fr. Reegan Soosai, CMF – Claretian Missionaries – USA-Canada Province