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ARISE inspired celebration of indigenous cultures in Ontario

Faith-sharing in small groups in a diocese in Ontario led to three celebrations of the indigenous cultures in that part of Canada.

The celebrations were organized after English- and French-speaking Catholics in the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie in Ontario completed the third season of ARISE Together with Christknown in French as DEBOUT Ensemble dans le Christ.
Jeanne McHarg, coordinator of the English-speaking ARISE program in the diocese, said that after the third season—which has a social-justice theme—she and the French-speaking coordinator, Mijou Pelletier, met with Bishop Jean-Louis Plouffe to discuss how the ARISE participants might put their faith into practice in the community.

“He said he would like us to do something with the indigenous people,” Jeanne said.

That population includes First Nation and Métis people and a small number of Inuit, some living on “reserves” and others in the community at large.

Sequoia Wemigwans, Joel Agowissa,
ARISE coordinator Jeanne McHarg,
and Liza Manitowabi-Wemigwans admired the mini-rosary craft,
such as the one Jeanne is holding
Elder Will Morin tells a spellbound audience interactive stories of
the Seven Grandfather Teachings, a tradition
that imparts principles of good conduct.

Jeanne said Bishop Plouffe also advised the leaders to have elders (from the indigenous community) on the planning committee from the outset, and that was a key factor in the success of the celebrations. The elders explained the protocols of interacting with the indigenous community and they gave extensive explanations of the background of their ceremonies.

“I had attended many indigenous events in the past, but had never heard these explanations. That’s what people appreciated the most,” Jeanne said.

Verna Hardwick, elder, gives drumming instructions
in front of an eagle feather staff—a sacred symbol
somewhat analogous to a national flag—loaned to
the diocese by the Sudbury Catholic District School Board.
Marcel Portelance of the French Boy Scouts of Sudbury
pours bannock batter on grill. More than 100 people
were served bannock following the sunrise ceremony.

Those attending the celebrations held in May in Sault Ste. Marie, North Bay, and Sudbury, learned about medicine wheels and medicines, traditional ceremonies, drumming and making drums, ancient wisdom and legends, and crafting of mini-rosaries.

They also sampled bannock, a pancake-like native food also known as fried bread or frybread, prepared by the French Boy Scouts.

“A lot of people who helped us out were Catholics,’’ Jeanne said, “but they’re also in touch with their indigenous spiritualty. The whole point was to understand each other’s cultures.’’

She said there is a five-year plan to continue the celebrations.