Pastoral Visit of our Bishop Mgr Guy Boulanger
to the Timiskaming First Nation
Article contributed by Father Reegan Soosai, c.m.f.
Tuesday, April 5th 2022 was a day-long pilgrimage for Mgr Guy Boulanger on the sacred land of Timiskaming First Nation, located near the municipality of Notre-Dame-du-Nord. The day started at around 9:05 a.m. at the band office where the bishop received a warm welcome from the Vice-Chief Christine Chevrier and some councillors (Colleen Polson & Gerald Hanbury). After a chat with them, the bishop went to the Anichinabe Long Term Care Center (ALTCC) where he celebrated Mass with the patients and personnel.
In his homily, he spoke of four things from the Gospel of the 5th Sunday of Lent that had a very meaningful connection with the spirituality and lifestyle of many Native People. He spoke of how Silence is important for Native People, as Jesus was Silent when many asked to condemn the woman caught in adultery. Silence helps us to discern the event and give a very positive response. The second one was about the Ground-Aki, which is very important for Native People who consider themselves as Guardians of Land. The third one was about the Elders and their wisdom which is a treasure for the community and through experiences they understand the history and its impact on people and on the Land at the same time 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, and this is what leads us to a true Reconciliation.
During Mass, a small and beautiful statue of Kateri Tekakwitha was blessed by the bishop, and it will be placed in the Chapel of the community. The community will celebrate its 50th year of active ministry (presence of a priest throughout the year) in 2024. Prior to that, there was usually only a summer ministry in many of the reserves. After Mass, the bishop attended a gathering with the residents where people asked him different questions and he was glad to answer them. Then we had dinner with the residents, where Fr. Rénal Dufour joined us. We were served moose meat as a main dish and bannock (traditional bread), all of which was very delicious. After dinner, the bishop met with in private with some people who wished to talk to him personally.
Then around 1:30 p.m. the bishop met with some Elders of the community at the Senior’s Unit. It was a very meaningful and fraternal gathering wherein people shared some of the stories about how they were brought up in the bush, their traditional ceremonies, etc. The seniors are very active in handicraft production, and thereby help to raise money to sponsor different projects in the community; for example, this year they gave no less than $30,000 to the health department.
The bishop had this to say: “I have come here in all humility and I wish to thank you for accepting me among you. I offer as my own the apology that has been already expressed by my brethren bishops of Canada and the Pope and I am here to listen to your testimony and your personal stories”.
Then the councilor Colleen Polson brought us on a tour of the community where we visited some of the services and landmarks, such as the health center, the school, the pow-wow ground, youth centre, etc. After the tour, the bishop had some time for personal meetings which were appreciated by both parties. We were given a brief explanation as to how a sweat lodge is used, how it is done and how people benefit from this traditional liberation ceremony.
We were treated to a delicious supper that had been prepared by Susanne Polson. The Vice-Chief Christine Chevrier, some councilors (Colleen Polson & Jennilee Wahsquonaikezhik) and other guests (Shirley McBride and Réjean Goudreault) were with us for the meal and we had lot of fun and talked about different things. We learned that Rouyn-Noranda is located on the Traditional Land of Timiskaming First Nation. Also, there was some discussion about means that were being taken to revive the Algonquin language in the community and for this purpose, a new Algonquin Language Coordinator has been appointed. One of the councilors had this to say: “There are a lot of activities going on in the community for youth, elders and children. We have the interest of the community at the heart of our thinking and action. The existential vulnerability united us more and more”.
The Council presented a gift of a pair of moccasins to Mgr. Boulanger which, by a happy and well-arranged coincidence, fit him just right. The moccasins also symbolize an invitation for him and the Church to walk with Native People in true fraternity.
Mgr. Guy Boulanger thanked everyone for their warm welcome, generosity and kindness in accepting him to walk with them. The council asked him to visit the community again.
Fr. Reegan Soosai, cf.m.f., priest-in charge of St. Kateri Tekakwitha Mission thanked the Chief and council for their 3 Ts: Time, Talent and Treasure. The Council also thanked Mgr. Guy Boulanger for his availability, friendliness and the pastoral visit. Kitchi Meegwetch to Marsha Wabie of Senior's unit, Lorri Hamelin and Jessie Bond of ALTCC and Jolene Polson, the secretary for coordinating everything. Our special and sincere thanks to the 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 made this day a memorable one. 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 6:45 p.m. with full of joy and hope!
Timiskaming First Nation has a total of 2,250 members of which 750 people live on the reserve and there are 200 people working in different departments for the Community. 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. We wish them all the best and implore the Creator’s blessing upon them so that they may take forward all these wonderful projects that seek more unity and more economical and political independence.
Kitchi Meegwetch/Merci beaucoup
Father Reegan Soosai, c.m.f