Fr. Garry LaBoucane describes healing events he hosts for First Nations people living in or near Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.


Fr. Garry LaBoucane describes healing events he hosts for First Nations people living in or near Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

May 30, 2016

Some Vancouver-area Catholics are working hard to repair ties with First Nations people after the close of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

"I've asked them to look at me as their worker. It's their Church. I'm only doing the things the Church wants me to do, and what they want me to do," said Deacon James Meskas.

When Meskas was ordained in January, he was tasked with providing pastoral care to two First Nations communities near his home in Agassiz, B.C.

"Their culture is important, and I try to support it in everything I do," he told about 20 people at a May 4 meeting of a First Nations group within the Vancouver Archdiocese known as the St. Kateri Tekakwitha Council.

Meskas serves the Seabird and Sts'ailes (Chehalis) First Nations, which each have a church and are missions of St. Anthony's in Agassiz. They were lacking items such as up-to-date lectionaries and hymnals.

He brought in some items and got to work preaching homilies, serving at funerals and organizing processions, Masses and community meals on certain feast days. He also started a bi-monthly prayer group and catechism for First Nations children.

Then he and his wife decided to take a major leap of faith: Sell their home, give away belongings they'd held onto for 20 years, and move into a mobile home in the First Nations community.

"What I realized after a while was I was just a stranger; I was not there enough. I was not part of the community," Meskas said. "They needed to know that I was going to be there and be part of them."


Deacon Dileep Athaide hopes to rebuild the eroded relationship between Sacred Heart Parish in Delta and the Tsawwassen First Nation.

"There used to be a very solid connection," but now there is "zero attendance" by First Nations people, he said. "This is sad, because the elders are all Catholic."

Athaide said it's time to change some ways the Delta parish operates. "There has never been any attempt to incorporate any First Nations culture."

"Ultimately, I'd like to bring the Catholic sacraments back."


A trio of communities in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside has been ministering to First Nations for years, said their pastor Oblate Father Garry LaBoucane.

"We try to be inclusive of all the nations that live in the Downtown Eastside," at St. Paul's Parish, Sacred Heart Parish and the St. Kateri Tekakwitha Centre.

LaBoucane arrived from Alberta in 2013 as the first Aboriginal priest in the archdiocese. Since the TRC, he has invited speakers to talk about reconciliation and encourage First Nations people to share their stories.

The three centres have also started hosting potlucks after Masses for First Nations and non-First Nations members. "It's about building community."


David McKeown leads arts and crafts at the St. Kateri Centre. "We're finding that a lot of people who have left the Church and refuse to go back are coming to the workshops," he said.

McKeown teaches participants how to make traditional vests, drums and cedar hats. After they complete the regalia, he invites them to attend the monthly First Nations Mass at St. Paul's and play the processional and recessional hymns.

Oblate Father Aloys Luken, the assistant pastor, said it makes a big difference.

"There are people who would never come to church otherwise, but more and more, at the First Nations Sunday, more people are coming. They feel familiar, they feel welcome, they feel comfortable when they hear the drums."

Betty Wilson, a member of the Tla'amin First Nation, said reconciliation is happening at Church of the Assumption Parish in Powell River, too.

Wilson invites First Nations people to participate in Mass by taking the collection and playing drums. "I'd just like our people to realize that it's their Church."