King's students and faculty return to Fond du Lac and Pine Channel, Saskatchewan
September 2, 2016
King’s students, faculty, and alumni embarked on their annual journey to Pine Channel, a small island in Lake Athabasca, Northern Saskatchewan this summer. This trip is facilitated by Father Michael Bechard, the Director of Campus Ministry at King’s, as part of the experiential learning course, Religious Studies 2351G – Inculturation and Spirituality.
A group of 15 people participated in this year’s pilgrimage. In addition to the group from King’s, others from St. Peter’s Seminary, Corpus Christi College in Vancouver and a deacon from the Diocese of London were part of this experience.
The two-week trip, from June 29 to July 13, 2016, was spent in the remote Denesuline (Dene) First Nations communities of Fond-du-Lac, Stoney Rapids, and Black Lake. While there, students and faculty participated in community service, dialogue, prayer and they learned about the Dene’s traditions, religious practices, history and their work for justice.
The trip begins and ends with time in Fond du Lac, with the majority of time being spent on the island.
Madelaine Uliana, a King’s student who was part of the group, shared her experience living in the Dene community. “It’s one thing to hear it on the news, all the time, about different reserves around Canada and some of the struggles they are facing— economically, socially, mentally, but it’s another thing to actually go there and live in it, even if it’s just for a week or two.”
The trip is a valuable learning opportunity about the social issues of First Nations in Canada, and about the issues which have been brought to light following the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Rob Renaud, a seminarian from St. Peter’s who joined the trip, said, “it’s about thinking about what to bring from the South to the North, so they can expand and build a strong foundation for themselves. It must be based on their culture to be self-determined, and empowered. It has to come from within. It really opens up a lot of dialogue to be able to support our neighbours in Canada,” he said
Activities on Pine Channel included fishing, camping, crafts, and cooking. Religious activities included daily mass, the praying of the rosary, the opportunity for sacramental reconciliation, and a candlelight vigil. The pilgrimage is also a time for members of the different communities to renew their wedding vows and to celebrate baptisms, confirmations and first communion.
“It’s amazing how much the Dene open up to us. We have a chance to use our pastoral counselling skills to try to help. On this trip, you discover yourself, too. To have that quiet time to be with nature, to be with God, is special because life can be so busy back at home. We want to open up that opportunity to more people,” says Renaud.
The course is designed for students in the Catholic Studies for Teachers program, Social Justice and Peace Studies, and Social Work. The course seeks to build bridges of understanding between the north and south regions of Canada.
The trip is made possible through the King’s travel bursary available to students, and through other fundraising efforts of Campus Ministry. The course is open to all King’s students with approval from the instructor. If you are interested getting involved with the Pine Channel trip, contact Father Michael at: Michael.Bechard@kings.uwo.ca.
Renaud sees the trip as more than just a learning experience; it also allowed him to make close connections with the people he met at Pine Channel. “It was really sad to leave, especially when you build all these amazing relationships from the community. They’re inviting you into your families. It’s like leaving your new family behind,” he said.