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150 years of Christianity in Res

Special ceremony marks arrival of Catholic missionary in 1852

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services

Fort Resolution (Aug 26/02) - It has now been 150 years since the first missionary arrived in Fort Resolution.

On Aug. 18, about a hundred Fort Resolution residents and visitors gathered on Mission Island for a special service and the dedication of a new cross to remember the historic event.

NNSL Photo

Bishop Denis Croteau of the Mackenzie Diocese presided at the celebrations. - Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

"What we celebrate here today is 150 years of Christian life," said Bishop Denis Croteau of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Mackenzie.

Croteau arrived at Mission Island by boat, in a re-enactment of the arrival of Father Henri Faraud a century and a half earlier. The original mission in Fort Resolution was built on the island.

The bishop noted the missionary came to the area at the request of native people, who had sent a delegation by canoe to Fort Chipewyan in 1851 inviting him to visit.

"The faith was not imposed on the people of Fort Resolution and Great Slave Lake," he said. "They asked for it."

Croteau said the mission to Fort Resolution was also in keeping with Jesus's message to his apostles to go to ends of the world and spread his message of hope.

"And in those days, Fort Resolution was almost the end of the world, because they didn't know what was north of here," he noted.

Nature was their religion

Native people of 150 years ago had a religion of nature, he said, noting they believed in the Great Spirit.

"When the first missionaries came, they didn't change the faith of the people, they improved it," he said. "They had the foundation, so to speak."

The bishop said the missionaries added one thing -- Jesus Christ.

"And that's what we celebrate today," he said, stressing native people were not to be left out of that great gift. "They were to receive it just like everybody else."

Croteau was accompanied by Father Camille Piche, the provincial superior of the Oblates from Edmonton.

The first missionary to Fort Resolution was also an Oblate.

Croteau quoted from Faraud's book, Eighteen Years Among the Indians, on his experiences during his first five-week visit to Fort Resolution, and two later visits in 1854 and 1856.

Little Hay and Burnt Head

During his first visit, Faraud performed Christian marriage ceremonies for 20 couples and baptized 68 people into the faith.

Faraud, who later became a bishop, also taught that it is not right to have more than one wife and that a couple must agree to marry.

Croteau recounted the story of Little Hay and his mate, Burnt Head.

When Faraud asked Burnt Head if she wanted to marry Little Hay, she said no, explaining she had been forcibly removed from her family.

Faraud wrote that the decision was the overturning of the people's entire social order.

"And that is how the church started in Fort Resolution in 1852," the bishop said.

The anniversary celebration was also special for Sister Joan Liss, the pastoral leader of St. Joseph Parish in Fort Resolution.

"We chose as our theme 'We remember, we celebrate and we give thanks,' " she said, explaining that recognized everyone who shared the faith in the community over the last 150 years.

St. Joseph Parish is located in the community of Fort Resolution.

"The church is very active here," Liss said, adding a priest from Hay River visits once a month to offer services.

Among those attending the anniversary event was Joe Calumet, who also was at a similar occasion celebrating the 100th anniversary in 1952.

Calumet lamented the fact that fewer people attended the 150th anniversary than the one 50 years ago, when he estimated 250 people joined in celebration.

The 150th anniversary event was still good, he said, although he wondered about such events in the future.

"I hope they can keep growing."

Although there may have been fewer people recalling the events of 1852 this year than a half century ago, many more people will eventually learn about the celebration.

That's because this year's ceremony was recorded by a film crew from Toronto. The company, Good Earth, is preparing a series of six television programs on the North.