Canadian Catholic Aboriginal Council’s Message for the 2009 National Day of Prayer for Aboriginal PeoplesFriday, December 11 2009
Grand Chief Henri Membertou
On June 24, 1610, Chief Membertou was baptized, along with 21 members of his family, by Fr. Jessé Fléché, as a sign of alliance and friendship with the French in Port Royal, known today as Annapolis Royal, in Nova Scotia.
Before Fléché’s arrival, Marc L’Escarbot had been teaching the Mi’kmaq people about the Christian faith, a directive from King Henry IV. As a result of L’Escarbot’s teaching, Fléché was able to perform the sacrament of baptism among the Mi’kmaq at that time.
Membertou was a great leader in his district and had a tremendous following. He was Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Mi’kmaq and was respected by all. It is said that Membertou “showed an unswerving loyalty” towards his French allies. He was so influential a figure in the Mi’kmaq society that within the next 50 years, many, if not most, converted to Christianity.
Grand Chief Membertou died on September 18, 1611. No one knows his exact age; however, it is widely acknowledged that it is well over 100 years.
Chief Membertou’s baptism has both religious and historical meanings. It is the first rite of baptism performed in Canada, and he was the first Indian of North America to embrace Christianity. His baptism also helped to bridge the gap between the native and non-native cultures which resulted in the establishment of the French settlement in Acadia.
Roman Catholicism is still an integral part of the Mi’kmaq spirituality and while some choose to practice native traditional spirituality, they blend creatively these ceremonies with those of the Roman Catholic Church.
The 400th year anniversary of Chief Membertou’s baptism will be celebrated in 2010 by the Roman Catholic Church, the Grand Council, and Mi’kmaq communities.