Michael Swan, The Catholic Register

Michael Swan, The Catholic Register

Michael is Associate Editor of The Catholic Register.

He is an award-winning writer and photographer and holds a Master of Arts degree from New York University.

Follow him on Twitter @MmmSwan, or click here to email him.

TUKTOYAKTUK, N.W.T. - Kedra and Destiny Kimiksana got to try cherries for the first time at the Catholic mission house in Tuktoyaktuk with Sr. Fay Tromblay. Once they had been warned about the pits, I tried teaching them “Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor...” Of course the seven- and eight-year-old girls didn’t know what a tinker or a tailor was. In fact, beggar man and thief were also new vocabulary.

After a couple of tentative bites and discovery of the first pit, both girls decided cherries were pretty good. They also got to try a bit of avocado, which Tromblay added to their salad. Salad is something they only eat at Sister’s house.

They liked the avocado, but found it difficult to pronounce.

Kids in Tuktoyaktuk are familiar with traditional Inuvialuit foods. They love tingmiaq (goose), pipsi (dried fish) and muktuk (skin and blubber of a whale). They eat a lot of imiraq (soup made from caribou, goose or fish).

TULITA, N.W.T. - When Sr. Celeste Goulet was nine years old her dad died. She grew up a fat, lonely kid in Guelph, Ont., who was paradoxically good at sports. Badminton was her game.

When she was first attracted to religious life, Goulet went looking for an order that ran an orphanage. By the 1970s there weren’t many of those left. Some mostly Polish Franciscans, the Felician Sisters, were the last women’s order in North America that still owned an orphanage.

By the time Goulet arrived in Tulita 32 years ago, the young sister had a degree in early childhood education and a conviction that what happens to children matters.

She spent a year talking over options with Tulita parents — do you want a day care or a pre-school? She carefully explained the difference. The parents opted for education that would increase their children’s chances of success in school.

TULITA, N.W.T. - Felicia Bravard and her friends Brendan, Stacy and a girl too shy to give her name to a stranger are passing a summer day in classic teenage style. I found them moseying the gravel roads of Tulita sharing a joint at 10 in the morning.

They offered me a toke, an offer not often made to middle-aged Church journalists. I declined.

If Felicia was a third-generation Canadian with an Italian or Irish background, this would probably fall into the category of teenage misbehaviour — a phase. In a First Nations community in the North, where nearly every adult is either an active alcoholic or counting the weeks, months or years of their sobriety, the 10 a.m. marijuana is more troubling.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada is in fact trying to shape a different future for Felicia and her friends. The commission is in the midst of a five-year mandate to create a public record of the tragedy of Indian residential schools and to examine the ongoing fallout of a 130-year policy that separated 150,000 native children from their families. By witnessing the stories of many of the 80,000 survivors and documenting the cultural and societal devastation to families torn apart, the TRC hopes to cultivate reconciliation between aboriginal people and the rest of Canada. Over time, they hope to build a better life for teenagers like Felicia.

INUVIK, N.W.T. — Pictures tell stories. Stories tell us who we are. For 15-year-old Mary Masazumi the story falls into the category of mystery.

Her father Alfred is dead and there are no family photo albums at home in Fort Good Hope that stretch back into her father’s childhood. Mary hoped to fill that gap pouring through binders of photos from the archives of the diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith. The diocese came to Inuvik for the Northern National Event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada June 28 to July 1 with as many photos of students as could be found. Visitors could take home up to five copies. The photos were the most popular attraction outside the commission hearings.

Masazumi’s father went to school at the Immaculate Conception residential school in Aklavik — at least she thinks it was Aklavik.

“He hasn’t told me about residential school,” she said.

INUVIK, N.W.T. - The Church in the north can help native people recover their languages and cultural identity, but it won't be easy, said Oblate Archbishop Sylvain Lavoie at the conclusion of four days of testimony about the damage residential schools did to native families, communities and culture.

Justice Murray Sinclair, chief commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada with a five-year mandate to investigate the history of the schools, wrapped up the TRC's Northern National Event in Inuvik July 1 with a warning to aboriginal participants in the Commission's hearings that they will have to take responsibility for the future of native culture.

"The Church can't give you back your language. The Church can't give you back your culture," Sinclair told about 400 people who attended the closing ceremonies for the event.

Sinclair told churches they would have to tell people they don't have to be Christian if they really want reconciliation.

INUVIK, N.W.T. - In the midst of a gathering which seeks reconciliation and healing from the 130-year history of residential schools in Canada, Catholic and Anglican bishops from the north took responsibility for the 400-year-old division between the churches and pledged continued dialogue, co-operation and reconciliation.

"This is a road we're on and there are no exits," said Bishop Gary Gordon of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.

The gesture of reconciliation and healing came on June 29, day two of the five-day Northern National Event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada in Inuvik. About 1,000 native people from all over the far north have gathered with Church and government officials to review the history of the residential schools, hear the stories of school survivors and imagine a new future for native Canadians.

Anglican and Catholic missionaries brought their rivalry with them to northern communities, often dividing communities and families along denominational lines. Catholics couldn't attend the funerals of their Anglican family members. Anglican and Catholic residential school students fought each other on the basis of religious labels.

"These are things we offer regret for, and we want to put them in our past," said Bishop Murray Chatlain of Mackenzie-Fort Smith, N.W.T.

INUVIK, N.W.T - It was a day of tears in Inuvik as Inuit, Dene and Metis gathered to remember and count their losses from years spent in residential schools.

"For the life of me, I can't remember the years from five years old to ten years old," said John Banksland, a representative of the northern survivors committee.

The second major hearing in the Truth and Reconciliation process opened on June 21 with approximately 1,000 survivors of residential schools turning out to tell their stories or listen to others tell theirs.

The federally funded commission is crossing the country to document the abuse that was rampant in the Indian residential school system that ran in Canada for more than a century.

Banksland's hope for the four-day meeting of residential school survivors, church representatives and government officials was for a better future.

"We've had 130 years of this stuff," he said. "It's time to let it go."

Unions, strikes and lockouts have dominated headlines and preoccupied the government as Canada eases into summer. So how many sermons are being preached about the right of workers to unionize? How often do Catholics recall the teaching of successive popes that workers have a right to a just wage that will provide for their families and old age?

Windsor and District Labour Council chaplain Fr. Bill Capitano — Fr. Cap down at the union hall — is convinced those sermons need to be preached.

“You might lose some people, but I think you would gain more,” Capitano told The Catholic Register. “The Church is talking about decent, living wages and the right to unionize. Maybe I’m dreaming, but I think that would be good for the Church.”

Beginning with the Canadian Auto Workers’ brief strike against Air Canada in mid-June, the Conservative government has taken an aggressive stance against strikes which Labour Minister Lisa Raitt said threaten the economy. The CAW and Air Canada decided to arbitrate their pension dispute before back-to-work legislation could take effect. Legislation imposed on Canada Post and its locked-out workers has saddled workers with lower pay raises than the employer had initially proposed in bargaining. Meanwhile, the Public Service Alliance of Canada is predicting a bitter fight over government plans for job cuts.

With an Ontario election looming in the fall, community faith leaders staged an all-party debate on poverty at the University of Toronto June 9. Well, it was almost an all-party debate. Despite seven weeks of trying, they couldn’t land a representative from the provincial Progressive Conservatives.

ISARC, an ecumenical and interfaith coalition supported by Ontario’s bishops and Catholic religious orders, went ahead anyway and at least one debater said the Conservative absence was irrelevant.

“Poverty will be an issue. You can’t ignore it. It’s not going away,” said Etobicoke Centre Liberal MPP Donna Cansfield.

Whether poverty is an issue when the election heats up in the fall will be up to churches, mosques and temples, said ISARC executive director Michael Skaljin.

“The faith communities are not going to be silent on this,” he said.

Salamawit Mehari tells the story of her cousin, Nardos Haile, who tried to make the desperate voyage from Libya to Italy with her three children. As the boat began to disintegrate in the Mediterranean and her husband turned to help neighbours, Haile held tight to her 16-month-old — and watched helplessly as her four-year-old and six-year-old were swept overboard.

At Toronto’s St. Nicholas of Bari parish, a new community of Eritreans are mourning friends lost to the Mediterranean. Wedlep  Habtemical thinks he knows 20 who died at sea. Goitom Abrha recalls 25. Selam Tesfaselasy remembers 14 members of her church choir.

These refugees are part of a growing group of Eritreans caught in the Libyan civil war who have made their way to Canada. The tiny Toronto Eritrean Catholic Community of St. Nicholas Bari, under Capuchin Fr. Vittorio Boria, is supporting 35 refugee sponsorships through co-sponsorship and doing its best to help new arrivals settle and focus on their futures.

To be a refugee in Libya is its own circle of hell. Add in a civil war and it gets worse.