Elders Irvine Sarazin, left, and Tom Deerhouse. Photo courtesy Galilee Centre

Galilee Centre keeps the healing fires burning

  • April 7, 2022

As the Indigenous delegations began meetings at the Vatican in Rome, a fire-lighting sunrise ceremony was taking place at the Galilee Centre in the small town of Arnprior, Ont., just 65 km west of downtown Ottawa.

The event was a partnership between the centre and Kateri Native Ministry, in response to the invitation of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Circle for a wave of vigils across the country during the time of the delegations’ visits to Rome. The centre chose to hold a sacred fire, which was maintained all week and extinguished on Friday, a day that came with a papal apology. 

Megan Postin, executive director of the centre, says responding to the call to stand in solidarity with Indigenous peoples was important to the centre’s mandate. Their intention has been to create a community that provides programs, services and an environment which nurtures people’s personal and spiritual growth, to contribute to a healthier nation and world.

As a ministry of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, which operated 48 residential schools in every region of Canada, the week was about standing together with Indigenous people in recognition of the history and the need for truth and healing, Postin said. Guided by the principle of “nothing about us without us,” the centre invited Indigenous elders to be leaders of the ceremonies and conversations, the idea being that Indigenous peoples should be at the centre of any conversation about truth and reconciliation.

“We’re very blessed by the relationship with Kateri Native Ministries and their willingness to guide us in this process, especially with Galilee’s link to the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, and their link to residential schools,” said Postin. “It’s a very fraught relationship. We’re just incredibly blessed at their willingness and openness to lead us and to help us approach this in a way that is as open as possible and transparent.”

Along with water ceremonies, tobacco ceremonies and smudging, they invited fire keepers, Algonquin Elder Irvine Sarazin and Ojibway Elder Tom Deerhouse, who kept the vigil. Residential school survivors Cree mother and daughter Lousie and Shirley Gagnon, who attended the St. Anne’s Residential School, shared their stories. Throughout the week of ceremony, those in attendance closely followed the press conferences from the delegation meetings in Rome.

“How we see our role right now is providing the space for these conversations and moments of reflection,” said Postin. “Being able to support the framework of being able to make sure people have the chance to see the reports from the delegation and to hear from the elders and leaders of the Indigenous community. We’re a small town and we don’t always get those opportunities in a space that’s accessible.

“There’s a lot of people within the Catholic community who are not sure where their voice fits in the conversation and they’re not sure what questions they need to ask. I think events like this provide that safe space to be able to admit that we don’t have the questions but to share the fact that we want to grow into a space of reconciliation and that we are asking for a time of truth and hearing those stories directly from Indigenous leaders and survivors is really important.”

Gerry Kelly, spiritual program director at the centre, played an integral part in putting together the week’s events as an advocate and facilitator of inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue. As part of its programming designed to build bridges with various religious communities, the centre invited Donna Naughton, executive director of Kateri Native Ministries, during their Women of Faith retreat series in January. As the keynote speaker of the online event she spoke about the balance she found between her Indigenous culture and the Catholic faith she grew up with.

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