Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 23, 2007
Aboriginal scholars research their roots
Project hopes to revitalize culture and language
By RAMON GONZALEZ
"There is a gap between the young people and the elders and that gap is not being bridged."
- Dr. Cora
"The Oblates have been living and working among the Aboriginal population for over 150 years and during that time, many of our men learned the language . . . and wrote grammars and dictionaries," explained Piche, who is also a part of the research team.
Lacombe set the tone for other missionaries when he composed a dictionary, a grammar and a summary of the Catholic faith in Cree. His works and the works of three other influential missionaries will be the main subjects of the study, according to Weber-Pillwax. The idea for the project began two years ago when Piche approached Weber-Pillwax and told her he thought the books could be of value in revitalizing Aboriginal culture.
Weber-Pillwax agreed and soon afterwards Piche began collecting the texts. "First of all it was a question of gathering them because there were books all over the place, including the museum, the provincial archives, the St. Albert archives and the missions," he said. "In a sense, all these books have been coming together because a lot of the missions have been closed down. As these missions closed down all these books kept coming in."
The books are mainly from the former Grandin Province of the Oblates, which covered Alberta and the Northwest Territories. It is hoped other provinces like Manitoba and B.C. will become part of the research project as well.
"I believe this (study) will give Aboriginal people a chance to discover and to reflect on the intentions of the priests," Piche said. "Why did they come and why did they learn the language and how well did they learn it and how were they involved in the community?"
But the study is really more than language and culture, the priest said. "It will also give us a chance to maybe study the Oblates too and the Church." He also hopes the study will renew the relationship between the Oblates and Aboriginal communities.
Weber-Pillwax hopes the study of the Oblate records will help bridge the cultural gap that now exists between young Aboriginal people and their ancestors.
"Because of social effects and the impact of schooling and religion, there is a gap between the young people and the elders and that gap is not being bridged. So we have to bridge it ourselves."
The Aboriginal scholar said the research is not an academic exercise but one that will involve the communities touched by the Oblates.
"We will have Cree people looking at those materials and figuring out how can we use this stuff today," she said. "At the end of the five years, I am hoping we will have community projects going. A lot of our team members are very interested in having curriculum development projects come out of this historical research."
The Oblate-run University of St. Paul in Ottawa, one of about 10 partners in the study, may house all the historical texts once the project is completed, Piche said. "They would have an Aboriginal library and they would also have a place where they would store these books and make them available to researchers."
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.