BY SISTER UNA BYRNE
Sitting here on a rainy Sunday evening in Norway House, I can look back on the last two months and say I am settled now. I live in a trailer between the old and the new church. It took a while to get things set up but now I have t.v. and internet (though I am out of water due to a mix up in the delivery on Friday), but then one can’t expect everything in life!
Today, we had a Liturgy of the Word, then First Communion preparation then I brought Communion to an elderly couple and now I am enjoying the quiet to write a few lines ‘ back home’ to the Sisters, Associates and Staff who have been so much a part of my life for the past eight and a half years. I do miss you all though I know I am where God is calling me right now!
Norway House, located at the north end of Lake Winnipeg, a drive of three hours south of Thompson and nine hours north of Winnipeg, is a Cree First Nation community of about seven thousand people. The community is spread out from the mainland, encompassing a number of islands linked by bridges. I live on what is called Fort Island where the original Hudson’s Bay post and fort were built. The people have been very welcoming and helpful, most expressing satisfaction that there’s “someone at the R.C. Mission now”. The people of the Catholic community have been running things on their own for a number of years with only periodic visits from a priest. I have great admiration for these people who have not only kept the parish going but also managed to get a lovely new church and parish hall built in the last few years. Years ago there was a residential school here, a convent with Sisters, and a Rectory with priests and brothers. The people speak very well of all of the missionaries, recounting stories of what they did for the youth and others, and fondly naming certain Sisters hoping I would know their whereabouts. That school, close to my trailer, is now a public school. The principal has invited me to visit the school anytime and encouraged me to volunteer, so that is what I do, three mornings a week, helping children with their reading.
Front entrance to school
There are two schools in the community. The one next to me is Nursery to grade 6 and the other, a beautiful new school named after Helen Betty Osborne, the young girl from Norway House, brutally killed in The Pas by four white youths a number of years ago. This school is in the shape of a turtle and educates children from Nursery to grade 12. About a third of the teachers and all the educational assistants and support staff are aboriginal. The principals and vice principals of both schools are also aboriginal. The schools have many pictures and symbols of Native culture. Every week they take one of the Seven Sacred Teachings and try to practice that one for the week. Much is done to encourage the children to go to school as attendance for many children, is sporadic, which is so sad as it keeps the children from doing well in school. Both schools had wonderful spring concerts which I attended and which lasted all day! There is also a branch of the University College of the North here where students can pursue post-secondary education. They can even earn degrees through this college.
There are many community events, usually free, like fish fry’s and fiddling, jigging and square dancing always accompanied by free meals. They love fiddling and jigging, and even little children will get up on a stage in front of everyone to jig! There is an evening of celebration for National Aboriginal Day and I have been asked to read aboriginal stories to the children in the school that day.
The Chief and Council seem very forward looking and pro-active in dealing with problems like drugs and alcohol and there are many agencies run by the local people to help families and children with problems There is a great emphasis on supporting families although housing is an issue here as it is all over the north. I see a greater self-awareness and pride in who they are in the people today. Much more than when I last worked in this area 22 years ago.
In the summer we will have York Boat Days, apparently it brings in many tourists. Maybe I’ll see some of you! Think of it, great fishing, beautiful lakes and rivers and all in your own country. Just look on the community website: http://www.nhcn.ca/
Blessings to you all. Hope you enjoy the summer.
The Church today