June 30, 2015 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn

By Nicole Bullock

King’s Chaplain Rev. Michael Béchard, Social Work Associate Professor Dr. Laura Béres, along with 13 students are set to embark on the 5th annual King’s journey to the remote population of Fond-du-Lac and Pine Channel, Saskatchewan. Fond-du-Lac and Pine Channel are remote fly-in First Nations communities located on the east side of Lake Athabasca in Northern Saskatchewan.

Rev. Béchard and Masters of Social Work student David Stanley departed from King’s on Monday, June 29th to reunite with the Fond-du-Lac community and prepare for the arrival of the additional 13 travellers. Dr. Laura Béres and the rest of the group will set out during the evening of Thursday, July 2nd.  All will return to King’s the evening of July 16th. 

Approximately half of the student travellers are enrolled in the Bachelor of Social Work and Master of Social Work program at King’s; with the other half studying in the Catholic Studies for Teachers program. In addition, one music student from Western University is accompanying the group.

The trip gives the students and faculty an opportunity to engage in cultural exchange. The purpose of the trip is to give back to the First Nations communities, and to work with the youth of the population. “While we are up there, the community shares their faith and light with us and gives us insights on what it means to be a First Nations community member in an isolated area of our country,” says Rev. Béchard. The students are also able to receive a credit towards their undergraduate degree or Masters of Social Work degree.

“A lot of the preparation for the trip goes into mentally preparing the self. It is not a luxurious trip. The idea is to just be a part of, accept, learn, and experience the way of life of the First Nations. It is a community of systemic injustice and poverty and this really opens up the mind,” says Rev. Béchard.

The group will spend one week with the Denesuline Fond-du-Lac First Nations community. During the following week, the travellers will spend one week on retreat with three different First Nations communities on the island of Pine Channel. This is a monumental year, as it is the 25th anniversary that these communities have been gathering on Pine Channel Island.

“It’s such an isolated piece. We are fortunate enough to have been invited into a community which many people are not as privileged to go to. It’s a blessing that we have been invited,” says MSW student David Stanley.

The travellers are incorporating a new photo-based project into their trip this year. The purpose is to have the community members use cameras to tell their life stories through photos and their own voices. “It’s an opportunity to capture language and interaction.” says Rev. Béchard.

The entire project for the last four years has been funded solely by outside donations, with Rev. Béchard raising $35,000 per year to cover the total cost for the group. This is the first year that King’s travel bursaries have been used.

“You establish relationships with the people and stay in contact when we return home. In some respects it is a little like going home. I am looking forward to being unplugged and offline and actually engaging on a face-to-face basis with people again,” Rev. Béchard remarks.

The King’s community wishes the travellers a safe and memorable trip!