The People of the Heart: Seeking Synergy Between Two Traditions

From the left: Rev. Mr. Rick Loftson, Fr. Stan Fontaine, Archbishop Richard Gagnon and pastor Fr. Mike Wolbaum in St. Kateri Tekakwitha parish in the Archdiocese of Winnipeg

I am a product of Sagkeeng First Nation, which is a signatory to Treaty Number 1. The story of my journey to the priesthood is a long one. It’s been said that the road of life is not easy, filled with many obstacles and victories, but also with the empowerment of the Creator to overcome and receive new wisdom and enlightenment. My involvement with the Kateri Church began in February, 2016 with a move to Winnipeg after spending a few months with the Sacred Heart Seminary in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. After receiving Holy Orders, I was assigned to minister to the Indigenous people of the parish. This article is the story of my approach in a multi-cultural area of Winnipeg.

There is a slow coming together taking place in the exercise of faith in Jesus Christ by the Indigenous people and their companions. It’s like the merger of 2 distinct companies into something new. It advocates that the heart and mind must operate harmoniously for the body to be healthy and efficient. It’s in this fashion that all things work together for the common good of humanity.

Left: Parish members drum during parts of the Mass. Right: Deacon Loftson is smudged by an Indigenous member of St. Kateri parish in preparation to proclaim the Gospel, similar to receiving incensing

At a typical Sunday mass at St. Kateri Tekakwitha Indigenous Catholic Church in Winnipeg, you’ll find symbolic expressions of both the People of the Heart and the People of the Written Tradition. But the reality is that there are more than 2 traditions participating in this merger. There are sisters from the Our Lady of the Missions congregation, who have Indigenous backgrounds within their own countries and who are serving the growth and development of the Indigenous Catholic Church here in Winnipeg. We also have the Oblates, the diocesan priests and the Holy Name sisters. As for local Indigenous people, there are Metis, Anishinabe, Cree and Dene primarily. We have had people from other cultures and traditions participate as well, such as those of Irish, French, Asian and Filipino backgrounds. Recently, we had a change of pastor and now have Fr. Mike Wolbaum. The majority of the congregation, however, are local Indigenous people.

In the beginning there was a HEART. The drum we use is like a heart. It is used at the beginning of a ceremony and throughout. It is the heartbeat of Mother Earth.

Like the human heart, the drum sends out its music to the whole universe. These words portray an Indigenous perspective. They’re typical of a heart and oral tradition and come from the People of the Heart.

On the other hand, there is another tradition that states essentially: In the beginning was the WORD, and the WORD was with God, and the WORD was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and without Him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in Him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. These words have been promulgated through the Christian tradition. Essentially, they are from the People of a Written Tradition.

The dynamics that occur when 2 traditions meet are varied. We face them whenever we offer services to those affected. There are 3 main dynamics which appear to occur in the pursuit of such goals as reconciliation, service, synodality or Indigenization within the Church, as follows.

1 + 1 =1 Dynamic: Primarily, this is the fact of our historical situation. This relationship states that, while there are 2 separate entities, only 1 is important. Usually this means that the important entity is dominant and the other, subservient. We speak of colonization efforts in our past, the strategic efforts to ignore the cultures of those deemed to be less and the attempts to make those “lesser people” more like the dominant culture.

1 + 1 = 2 Dynamic: This occurs when an entity refuses to be “second class” or when both entities refuse to be governed by the other. It occurs when there is no cooperation or a separation between them. In our current society, we observe a lot of this dynamic. In our situation historically, the dominant culture was taught that they were superior. The Indigenous people were taught the opposite. In catching up, a lot of Indigenous people today refuse to be governed by a dominant or external culture.

1 + 1 = 3 Dynamic: This occurs when there is a fusion, a coming together on equal terms. This can occur between 2 persons or 2 entities. This is the type of arrangement which the Church is presently emphasizing. The 2 entities can produce a synergy, something new and dynamic through walking together. In his address in Edmonton, the Pope stated, “The Church is the house where we conciliate anew, where we meet to start over and to grow together. It is the place where we stop thinking as individuals and acknowledge that we are brothers and sisters of one another. Where we look one another in the eye, accept the other’s history and culture, and allow the mystique of togetherness, so pleasing to the Holy Spirit, to foster the healing of wounded memories. This is the way: not to decide for others or pigeonhole everyone within our preconceived categories, but to place ourselves before the crucified Lord and before our brothers and sisters in order to learn how to walk together.”

Our contemporary efforts to produce a healthy Church environment for primarily 2 traditions is clearing the way for a fourth dynamic, that is, 1 + 1 = 4. This has our relationship to the Creator as the prime dynamic, through his son, Jesus Christ, who gives us the 4 cardinal points of the medicine wheel which expresses our relationship to all of humanity. It symbolically expresses the existence of 4 basic peoples, although there may be others, denoted by the colours red, yellow, black and white.

Photos courtesy of Rev. Fontaine