by Barbara Ann Charlie
Remarks made by lay leader Barbara Ann Charlie of Duncan, British Columbia, at the Third Annual Diocesan Conference in Victoria, British Columbia, October 2013
I am Barbara Ann Charlie. I am from Cowichan. I am wife to Tom Charlie and mother to Suzanne and David Charlie. I am proud to be grandma to five beautiful children.
I am a parishioner at St. Ann’s church, a beautiful church situated at the base of Mt. Tzouhalem. St. Ann’s is where I was baptized and also where I was married. My children and my beautiful grandbaby Axis were also baptized at St. Ann’s.
When I was a child, my parents took me to Sunday Mass each week. I remember walking into the church and being welcomed and seated by my grandfather, William Throne, my Popa. While being escorted to the third pew on the left side I would see my grandmother, Mom, as we called her, kneeling at the last pew with her rosary beads draped over her hands, quietly reciting the rosary. I will always remember the sparkle of her beads. As a family of eight, the Throne family took up the whole third pew.
As a teen and most of my adult years, my attendance at Mass was sporadic. Yet my dad never wavered and always encouraged me to attend and be involved in the church. When I did attend, I always noted my dad’s smile and the glimmer in his eye as I sat next to him—something I will always remember.
My dad sang all the hymns beautifully; I especially loved when he sang the Hulqumi’num songs. Dad also read the readings perfectly. What an amazing voice. Dad would always encourage me to sing. Now I don’t have the voice he had, but he always said, “It doesn’t matter what you sound like, just sing!”
Looking back now, I wonder if Dad’s encouragement was because he knew that singing songs praising God would be healing to my spirit, and they truly are.
My Mom, Lovely Rita, as my Dad’s friends called her, taught me to pray the rosary: before I went to bed I would lie next to my Mom as she taught me.
Today I sit on the parish council and I am a member of the Legion of Mary and I support the Child and Youth Ministry. The Child and Youth Ministry began as outreach work. We set up tents in a central area on one of the Cowichan Tribes’ reserves. We went to where the children were. We begin the two-hour session each Thursday by sharing a nutritious meal with the children. Once the children have eaten, we begin teaching arts and crafts or read with them. They are then given time to respond in the form of art therapy. The children, who range in age from three to ten, have made beaded rosary bracelets, bookmarks and framed pictures, and have completed numerous picture responses to various books.
Through our outreach work many parents and grandparents have approached Sr. Elisa or Sr. Vinda or Sara (Modeste) to have their children baptized on site or at St. Ann’s. Both Fr. Joe and (former) Bishop Richard Gagnon have baptized children.
Today one grandfather and/or grandmother attend Sunday Mass with several of their grandchildren. These children attend Catechism and one ten-year-old does a reading for our children-sponsored Mass that is held every third Sunday. The children are bringing the adults back to church.
Now that we are into cooler weather one mother has opened her home to our Thursday Child and Youth Ministry sessions. What are my hopes for the Child and Youth ministry? I hope that we will be able to continue to offer these sessions weekly.
Second, I hope more parents and children will become involved so that one day we will be in a position to host youth conferences that will bring many Indigenous youth together.
I believe as participants we are continuing with the work that our ancestors began. As Cowichan people, we have a responsibility to support the well-being of our people.
My grandfather, my Popa, said, “Treat your children well and they will always remember how you made them feel. This is important to me.”
I would like to share with you why I revealed some of my history to you. As a people it is important to make a connection. When I meet a fellow First Nations for the first time, I usually tell them my name and who my parents or grandparents are. This way we connect and they know where I belong.
By being involved in the church and welcoming us to Sunday Mass, Popa created for us a sense of belonging. With their presence, Mom and Popa ensured an air of familiarity, a connection.
We need to ensure that all children have a sense of belonging. We need to provide opportunity to children so that they’ll experience mastery. We need to encourage independence. And finally, we need to encourage generosity.
As a group we approach our work in true faith of God. As a group, we welcome, acknowledge and celebrate each child’s attendance at our group. We respect and honour each child.
During Mass we continue to sing in Hulqumi’num. Children participate in the Offertory. The children have experienced mastery in that they are proud to make the Sign of the Cross, Our Father and Hail Mary.
By opening her door to our Group, the young mother has modelled generosity. Another mother has sent bottled juice to share with the group. The community safety department demonstrated generosity when they provided a barbecue dinner.
There are many successes in our group that may seem so small but are actually lifechanging.
One three-year-old attended our group with his sisters; the first few sessions he sat and sat and sat through the whole sessions.
When we placed food in front of him, we literally had to feed him. During art work, we would guide his hands into strokes, we would sing to him, talk to him; usually, he would not respond. Today, he plays with Fr. Joe, he openly expresses himself, he smiles when we play with him, he has a hearty appetite and feeds himself. Sue, one of our members, says the change in the children is like night and day. This three-year-old now jumps up and greets Sue with a hug. This beautiful little boy lost his father approximately two years ago. He, along with his sisters, looks forward to our Thursday sessions. Their grandmother says they count down the days each week.
The children are modelling independence. One ten-yearold read the first reading on site at the Baptismal Mass. She did so well, she was asked to do a reading at Sunday Mass at St. Ann’s. She walked to the front and froze. Sister guided her back to her seat.
Fr. Joe commended her on the courage it took to stand at the front and suggested that she perhaps try again.
At the next children-sponsored Mass, she read beautifully. One of my aunts who passed away about two months ago used to say, “If you are not happy with how things are going—do something about it.” So that is what we are doing. We are doing something about it.”
Reprinted with permission from the Diocesan Messenger of the Diocese of Victoria, British Columbia December 2013.