Indian Residential School Survivors to adopt
Roman Catholic Archbishop in the name of Reconciliation
Traditional “Naabagoondiwin” adoption ceremony to be held in Winnipeg
On Saturday, April 14th, Anishinaabe elders and community leaders Phil Fontaine, Bert Fontaine, Fred Kelly and Tobasonakwut Kinew will adopt James Weisgerber, the Archbishop of Winnipeg, in an open ceremony at the Thunderbird House.
This is the first event of its kind in the reconciliation between residential school survivors and missionary churches. Naabaagoondiwin is the Anishinaabe ceremony of “making relations”. This ancient ceremony was carried out by families seeking to share their love and welcome with a new relative, or in times of welcoming newcomers into their territory, or to bring peace between warring nations, feuding families and rival villages.
In the same spirit, a bond of brotherhood will be formed between the four residential school survivors and the archbishop. By forging a bond of kin, they will show their commitment to the project of reconciliation between First Nations people and other Canadians, and to healing the effects of the residential school era.
“The ceremony is to be a public event so that more survivors, the generation following who are still impacted, and leaders can witness the historic and unbreakable bond that will be be made,” says elder Tobasonakwut Kinew. “It is our fervent hope that this will further the process of reconciliation in a broader sense.”
People will also witness the younger generation conducting the adoption ceremony, as a statement that First Nations people and traditions will survive into the next millennia.
The public event will be held at the Thunderbird House, Winnipeg, from 1-4 pm.
Tobasonakwut Kinew and Archbishop Weisgerber first met during the April 2009 delegation of First Nations people that had an audience with Pope Benedict XVI, when the Pope addressed the Catholic Church’s involvement in the Canadian Indian Residential School system. Phil Fontaine, then National Chief, led the AFN delegation of Residential School survivors, with Tobasonakwut Kinew invited as the Elder. Archbishop Weisgerber was an integral part of the planning and the clerical delegation.
Since that time, Tobasonakwut and the Archbishop have become close friends, with many meetings and discussions, leading to Archbishop Weisgerber participating in spiritual ceremonies while Tobasonakwut began attending church at the Archbishop’s invitation. More dialogue continued, with Kelly and both Fontaines becoming involved.
Tobasonakwut Kinew, LL.D., is an Anishinaabe Elder, pipecarrier, member of the Mideiwin and Sundance or many years. He is an instructor in the Indigenous Governance and Masters of Development Practice programs at the University of Winnipeg.
Fred Kelly is an Anishinabe Elder and a member of the Midewin, the Traditional Law and Medicine Society. He continues to serve as an advisor as an advisor to many prominent First Nations leaders in Canada and was also a member of the team that negotiated the Indian Residential School Agreement.
Phil Fontaine, LL.D., is a renowned Anishinaabe leader, a former three-term National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, who is widely regarded for bringing about theIndian Residential School Agreement (2005) and the formal apology of the Government of Canada in 2008. Phil is a consultant and an in-demand public speaker.
Bert Fontaine, brother of Phil Fontaine, is a family patriarch, a leader in the Sagkeeng First Nation, and a renowned hockey player.
The Most Reverend V. James Weisgerber, S.O.M., D.D., is the Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Winnipeg, and serves as President of the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Manitoba and Co-chair of the Moving Forward Together Campaign.He has worked on social justice issues his whole life.
"I tarred everyone with the same brush -- I was wrong, simply wrong," the former Assembly of First Nations national chief told a gathering of reconciliation at Thunderbird House. "I apologize. I say that from my heart."
Fontaine was part of a traditional ceremony, in which he and three other men adopted Archbishop James Weisgerber as an act of reconciliation.
But as the five men each spoke in turn, Fontaine issued his own apology.
His past public reaction to his experiences in residential schools overshadowed the goodness of many people, Fontaine said: "My words have also hurt a lot of people, my bitterness, my anger. I was indiscriminate in my words."
Weisgerber said that he was deeply moved by the willingness of aboriginal people to forgive, after the church did so much damage to aboriginal people and their culture. "I believe we have a very long way to go, but it’s a road worth travelling," Weisgerber said.