July 31, 2013 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn

Photo courtesy of Teresa Benincasa-Sweeting

Every July, members from the Dene communities of Fond du Lac, Black Lake and Stony Rapids, Saskatchewan, gather together in Pine Channel, a small island in Lake Athabasca.  Facilitated by the Most Reverend Murray Chatlain, Archbishop of Keewatin-Le Pas, it is a time to join one another in renewal and appreciation of their faith.  For the third straight year, 16 students and staff associated with King’s and supervised by King’s Chaplain Father Michael Bechard joined the First Nations communities from July 4-16. 

The trip’s first stop in Fond du Lac Denesuline First Nation gave the group a chance to settle in and engage with residents in the community.  After a few days, they travelled to Pine Channel, where Adam Moreash, a fourth-year student in Religious Studies at King’s, took part in the excursion.  Currently working with King's Campus Ministry for the summer, Moreash jumped on the opportunity to travel abroad and immerse with First Nations culture. 

“During our time in Pine Channel, we had no electricity and no running water,” says Moreash.  “You learn to love the simplicity of life.  The people we came across are never hungry and never bored.  The bond they have with each other is priceless.”

Moreash and the other pilgrims took turns preparing meals and planning activities for the children that were spiritually charged and connected to Native culture. 

“I held drawing activities on what it meant for the children to be Dene,” says Moreash.  “Not only was it a chance for the children to learn new activities from us, it was an opportunity for us to learn about them and their culture.”

Another participant, Teresa Benincasa-Sweeting BA ’07 (Religious Studies), was eager to experience Pine Channel after speaking with past pilgrims who left feeling humbled and inspired to make a difference.  Benincasa-Sweeting, who will be coming back to King's in the fall for the Bachelor of Social Work program, is also a member of Christ the King University Parish and a soprano singer in the King’s Chamber Choir.  

Benincasa-Sweeting enjoyed spending time with the elders in the community who took them on fishing and hunting trips.  She even had a chance to meet an elderly woman who spoke five different languages, and shared personal memories of attending residential schools.

Encouraged to venture out beyond their camp, Benincasa-Sweeting encountered several unique individuals, including a 99-year old woman in need of assistance walking back to her home.  She was touched by the woman’s hospitality and the pair spent time together looking through her rosaries and religious statues.

“What was so special about this encounter was that I was in the presence of someone who had seen a lot and simply needed someone to walk her home,” says Benincasa-Sweeting.  “In Ontario, we are all caught up in social media and rapidly changing news.  North of Saskatoon, there is no cell reception.  You can’t send a short text or call someone from the side of the road.  If you want to speak with someone, you use a landline, or you go and visit.  It was a refreshing change.”

The trip was made possible with the support of the Sisters of St. Joseph and an anonymous donor, as well as fundraising done by Campus Ministry. 

“This is a great opportunity for students to experience first-hand some of the challenges experienced by First Nations people,” says Father Bechard.  “It’s an opportunity for students to experience hope and resilience present in the people.” 

For more information about First Nations Learning Experience visit www.kings.uwo.ca/campus-ministry-old/education-faith-sharing/learning-experience/