Echoing God’s Word: National Gathering Examines Faith Nurturing in Aboriginal Communities

Wednesday, October 17 2001

(Ottawa – CCCB) Forty people involved with teaching the Catholic faith in Aboriginal communities across Canada gathered in Ottawa over the weekend to share how faith is nurtured in Canada’s native communities.

This first-ever meeting was organized by the native issues advisory staff of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) in order to assess what is being done and what needs to be done for teaching the faith in Aboriginal communities.

The participants were both native and non-natives who are actively engaged in faith formation in communities belonging to the Anishinabe, Cree, Innuit, Sliammon, Mohawk, Algonquin, Atikamekw,  Montagnais and Micmac nations.

Sister Priscilla Solomon, an Anishinabe Sister of Saint Joseph from North Bay, Ontario, acted as facilitator for the weekend.  She said the meeting came up with suggestions for the bishops on how to integrate native traditions and symbols into the catechetical process that will let Aboriginal Peoples more easily identify with the Catholic faith.

“We can’t continue as two separate circles,” she said.   “We have to discover news ways of discovering that we are one Church in a way that is appropriate to our ways and cultures.”

One of the “elders” at the gathering was Archbishop Peter Sutton, OMI, of Keewatin-Le Pas in northern Manitoba, who expressed his satisfaction with the weekend’s discussion.  “This gathering showed there is a great need to produce materials developed by aboriginal peoples themselves,” he said. “ We started something really good here this weekend and we can’t back down.  It’s only a matter of where we go from here.”

Archbishop Sutton says many of the suggestions from the weekend will go to several episcopal commissions for action.

These suggestions include sharing existing resources developed in various aboriginal communities for teaching and liturgies, creating more opportunities for dialogue including time for healing circles, and creating new resources that are simple and easy to understand in an oral tradition.

As a follow-up to a CCCB Pastoral Letter in May 1999 entitled Rediscovering, Recognizing and Celebrating the Spiritual Heritage of Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples, the October 12-14 Gathering was a response to a need identified by pastors and pastoral workers attempting to nurture a more fully inculturated expression of the Church in native communities. The Gathering also followed recent discussions with the Tekakwitha Conference in the United States regarding catechetical resources.