CATHOLIC REGISTER PHOTO | EVAN BOUDREAU
Archbishop Murray Chatlain tells Toronto students about the impact of racism.
The Archdiocese of Keewatin-Le Pas is taking steps to help curb the anti-aboriginal racism that is running rampant in northern Saskatchewan.
"We defend those who don't have a voice to speak up," said Archbishop Murray Chatlain while speaking to students at Toronto's St. Joseph's College School on Sept. 30 during his annual visit to Toronto. "I really feel called to speak up when sometimes comments are made or things are said that are not fair. Because I know the people (and) I love the people, I really am hurt by some of the racism that goes on towards our aboriginal brothers and sisters."
Ordained in the Saskatoon Diocese in 1987, Chatlain has spent most of the past decade and a half working in the remote regions of northern Canada, most recently as bishop of the diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith before being relocated to Keewatin-Le Pas in March.
Although as a priest Chatlain has been exposed to aboriginals, who represent slightly more than half of the parishioners in his former diocese, what he wasn't exposed to was the degree of racism in Keewatin-Le Pas and its rippling negative effects on the aboriginal people.
"People who are experiencing racism believe it about themselves," he said. "They start to think of themselves in that negative way. That is the real evil of racism; it takes the self-esteem from our people."
To help change this negative image of themselves, Chatlain, who also sits on the Canadian Catholic Aboriginal Council, has been lobbying for more First Nations' faces on the front lines of the largest local industry, mining.
"We are trying to encourage local people to be hired," he said. "Unfortunately it is often that they get the jobs that are housekeeping or cooking, but we are trying to get more of our young people to be able to drive the big machinery, do some of the better paying jobs."
Chatlain said this will have a positive ripple effect through generations to come as today's aboriginal youth become successful role models for tomorrow.
In addition to mining, the diocese has helped establish a near 50-per-cent aboriginal representation within the local teaching community.
Chatlain said these efforts have many aboriginal students aspiring towards careers as doctors, nurses and lawyers.
And while Chatlain and the diocese can only do so much to persuade businesses to change their hiring practices, what they can ensure is that the Church itself embraces aboriginal culture.
"The local people are taking leadership, sometimes leading funerals and weddings, and a lot of Sunday services are led by local people," he said.
"We are (also) trying to involve more of the aboriginal practices in how we celebrate Mass."
The local Church has embraced the custom of sweetgrass smudging and priests in his diocese often acknowledge the four directions, which are sacred to the aboriginal people, during the conclusion of the Eucharist hymn.
"The main shift is that it is a little more cool and certainly more acceptable to be aboriginal," he said. "Forty years ago that was not the case; people hid the fact that they were aboriginal."
"I find that really surprising, because as a people, you should feel proud of your culture," said Grade 9 student Jahmya Grant.