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This article was published 12/4/2012 (2741 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A Catholic archbishop who arranged a private meeting with the Pope for Canadian residential school survivors says he is humbled and honoured by his upcoming adoption into the aboriginal community.
"This is a commitment to be a brother. This is a strong commitment," said Archbishop James Weisgerber, archbishop of the Roman Catholic diocese of Winnipeg. "It will help lead reconciliation between our communities."
Weisgerber will be adopted by two sets of brothers who already consider each other kin: Phil Fontaine, former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, his brother, Bert Fontaine, and Anishinaabe elders and brothers Fred Kelly and Tobasonakwut Kinew. The ceremony is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday at Thunderbird House.
"This man becomes our brother, and to the extent he can, he will participate in our ceremonies," said Kinew, 76, adding Weisgerber is the first Roman Catholic bishop in modern memory to be taken into the Anishinaabe community.
Known as Naabaagoodiwin, which translates as making relations, the ceremony is a traditional way of connecting families, communities or nations together to become kin, said Kinew's son, Wab Kinew, who will conduct the ceremony in Ojibwa and English. "This is going to formalize (it) and lock them in a bond until death do them part," says the younger Kinew, 30, a CBC broadcast journalist.
Three years ago, Weisgerber personally asked Pope Benedict XVI to meet with Canadian residential school survivors. In April 2009, the archbishop travelled to Rome with a delegation of 40 former students, chiefs, elders and aboriginal politicians for a public audience at the Vatican. Later that day, five members of the delegation, including Phil Fontaine and Tobasonakwut Kinew, met privately with Pope Benedict, where he told them of his anguish members of the church were involved in something that hurt people.
For decades, more than 150,000 native children in Canada were forced to attend state-funded Christian schools in an effort to assimilate them into Canadian society. About three-quarters of the 130 schools were run by Catholic missionary congregations.
Since their trip to Rome, Weisgerber and the senior Kinew have become friends, participating in each other's spiritual ceremonies and learning about each other's cultures and traditions.
"I've been greatly enriched by what Tobasonakwut has shared with me," said Weisgerber, 73. "The things I've learned have made my life much better."
As for Kinew, who was baptized Roman Catholic, the adoption formalizes a personal connection with the archbishop, as well making a public statement of his community moving forward in a relationship with the Catholic church.
"What we want to do is address the issue of reconciliation and to address the issue of racism in Canada and to demonstrate to the Canadian public and the world that if people want to work together, they can work together," he said.
For Derek Nepinak, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs grand chief, the adoption sends a signal of good faith to the public, and it offers a pledge that non-native and Anishinaabe cultures work together in the name of a shared future. "We can't just sit down and engage in a discussion, say 'I'm sorry' and walk away. We have to engage with each other and recognize and apply our ceremonies in a mutually respectful way," Nepinak said.
Brenda Suderman has been a columnist in the Saturday paper since 2000, first writing about family entertainment, and about faith and religion since 2006.
Alexandra is a veteran news reporter who has covered stories for the Winnipeg Free Press since 1987. She held the medical beat for nearly 17 years, and today specializes in coverage of Indigenous-related issues. She is among the most versatile journalists on the paper’s staff.