Indigenous Canadians call for the acknowledgement of their suffering at a Toronto march in 2015. Photo by Michael Swan

Saskatchewan diocese hosting vigil for missing Indigenous people

  • April 10, 2018

Prince Albert Bishop Albert Thevenot will host a prayer vigil in his diocese April 17 to remember the Indigenous people who have gone missing and their families who have been left behind.

It’s the first time the central Saskatchewan diocese has hosted such a vigil. 

“We’re doing it to express our sympathy for all those families who have experienced missing people, be it man or woman,” said Thevenot of the ecumenical service that will take place from 7-10 p.m. at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Prince Albert. “We just want to gather to pray with them.”

The bishop doesn’t know the numbers of people in his diocese, with its sizeable Indigenous population, who have gone missing, but that isn’t the point of the vigil. He said numbers don’t matter, it’s merely the fact a family is missing a loved one. 

And for many of these people, there’s a great sense that they have been abandoned. 

“This is a sad moment for a family when somebody goes missing and nobody seems to be interested in trying to do something about it,” said Thevenot. “That’s when we as Church have to be standing with those going through this time of great grief and sadness and loneliness.”

The vigil comes at a time when the MMIGW, the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Girls and Women inquiry, continues to crisscross the country hearing the stories of families whose loved ones have gone missing. The inquiry’s final report is due at the end of the year, but the head of the inquiry has asked for a two-year extension. 

One of the inquiry’s stops was in the neighbouring Saskatoon diocese in the fall of 2017. While the Diocese of Prince Albert didn’t have official representation at the inquiry, Thevenot knows that many of his people were there.

Thevenot said he believes an initiative like this prayer vigil is one of the small steps needed to heal the broken relationship between the nation’s founding people and those who followed.

“Reconciliation is done on small, little things, and this is one of them, that we gather and pray with (Indigenous)…. My concern is that we are gathering so that we can show our support and try to be with those who are going through the grieving and sadness of having a missing person in their family,” he said.

It’s the small things, he is certain, that will pave the way to reconciliation that much of the nation desires with Indigenous people.

“It’s not the discourses and the big things that are going to do it. I think it’s by little steps, steps where we walk with them and try to be with them as they are going through this whole story,” said Thevenot.

Thevenot said the Church-Indigenous relationship is good in his diocese and there are plenty of services each Sunday on reserves throughout the territory. But he understands the outstanding issues that are out there. His diocese abuts Saskatoon where passions were inflamed by the acquittal of farmer Gerald Stanley in the death of Indigenous youth Colten Boushie earlier this year. And he knows the anger some felt when Pope Francis said he would not be able to come to Canada to apologize in person for the wrongs committed on Indigenous peoples in Canada’s residential schools as per recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

So when planning the vigil, Thevenot consulted with local elders for their thoughts on his plan. He received their blessing to move forward.

It’s these small steps Thevenot is convinced will open the doors to the bigger events, such as a papal visit to Canada. 

“This is something different and I think it’s good for us as a Church to say, okay, we made our mistakes but we’re also trying to step up to the plate and try to build up this reconciliation attitude that we should have among ourselves,” he said.

(Conlon is a writer in Regina.)

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