This morning we awoke in time for showers and headed off to the Long Term Care home to attend Mass with Fr. Joe. We arrived at the same time as Fr. Joe and helped him set up the makeshift altar. Both Chris and I acted as sacristan. First time for Chris to be sure! Jeannine was to pour the water from the sink into the little vial then pour the sacramental wine into the little jug. The wine was poured from what looked like an empty but cleaned yogurt bottle labeled Mass Wine. Chris arranged seats and basically did what Fr. Joe asked. We all greeted the residents, some of whom had no idea who we were or what we were saying as some only spoke Dene or the local dialect Slavey. It was truly an honour to meet these elders of the community, and they seemed to appreciate our interaction with them. We were then joined by another couple, Karen and Nick Sibbeston, who were to provide the music for the Mass. Nick is currently a member of the Senate for the NWT and is due to retire in a couple of years. His interest is primarily in First Nations People and he speaks fluent Dene. He of course is First Nations himself and has lobbied extensively for First Nations as a member of the Legislative Assembly and now as a Senator. His music style is interesting as everything he played was in 4/4 time regardless of the time signature. Try to sing Hosea (Come Back To Me) in 4/4 time. At any rate he was a great addition to the mass along with his wife. They are a Marriage Encounter couple and brought ME to the NWT for many years.
So as a few more residents were wheeled in it was time to start Mass. Picture this: the altar is a very small square end table with white cloth, small crucifix, two battery powered candles, tiny credence table at the side. So Mass begins with the hymn On This Day O Beautiful Mother in 4/4 time. Try it… After the song things got very interesting and moving at the same time. Mass is in the common room. The medical and janitorial staff went about their business with no apparent sense of occasion, passing back and forth attending to their responsibilities and talking as needed. In another corner of the room the TV is on and ironically, an old John Wayne war movie is playing with the volume low but audible. (Have you ever noticed that even in the middle of a tropical jungle, John Wayne never sweats?)
But our attention remained with Fr. Joe and he started Mass by introducing us and asking one of us to stand and speak to the crowd, such as it was, about who we were and where we were from. Chris did the honours and spoke about 5 sentences. No sooner had we sat down when Nick turned to the residents and translated what Chris had said into Dene for the residents. It was just so wonderful to hear that language and see the residents nod their heads as they heard what had been said. Fr. Joe continued with the Mass and after two or three prayers Nick would turn to the people and translate. That continued for the entire Mass. The gospel reading was the only reading and again every two or three sentences was translated for the residents. Same with the homily which was quite good and thought provoking. Fr. then asked if anyone wanted to share their thoughts on the gospel and the homily and three of us did again with Nick translating. The Eucharistic Prayer was in Dene, The Lord’s Prayer was read in Dene and then said in English. It was truly a humbling experience to see this member of the Senate translate for these elders. During the kiss of peace we all greeted one another and all the residents present and Communion was brought by Fr. Joe to all the residents and one in a room off the common room. When Mass was done we helped put the room back in order as lunch was being served. It truly was an experience we will never forget.
After all was done Fr. Joe, Nick, Karen, Chris and Jeannine went to a local restaurant for lunch and to continue our discussions about aboriginal issues in the North etc. Something we found interesting came to light during the discussion: Nick pointed out that there are no native Reserves in the Northwest Territories, with the exception of one in Hay River. His observation was that, in his experience here, the Federal Government’s policy of integration, rather than separation, has worked very well, as it has more or less forced the differing cultures to work together to solve issues. We certainly found his comments food for thought. What a great day.
Later on we took some pictures of the Mackenzie River and of the location where Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass under the giant TeePee pictured here.
Tomorrow we leave for Fort Providence for one night, then on to Yellowknife, where we have booked the first two nights in a hotel for a little break from RV’ing. The next 3 nights will be spent at Fred Henne Territorial Park.