Proclaiming the Gospel to the Indians and the Metis.
This publication, Proclaiming the Gospel to the Indians and the Metis, by Raymond J. A. Huel, is the third volume in the Western Oblate History Project that fostered the study of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate in Western and Northern Canada. Huel, a professor in the Department of History at the University of Lethbridge, has served as general editor of the Project and has demonstrated expertise in his scholarly writing of the Francophone experience in Western Canada. While recognizing the varied and complex activities engaged in by the ablates, Huel, in this particular study, focuses on their missionary work among the Indians and the Metis More specifically, he concentrates on their efforts only in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, from 1845 to 1945, with the expressed hope that historians will provide more studies related to the Oblate experience in British Columbia and among the Inuit people of the North.
Recounting the origins and progression of the Order in France, established under Charles-Joseph-Eugene de Mazenod in 1826, Huel outlines the stipulated qualifications for missionary priests and the instruction relevant to foreign missions. In the opinion of Bishop Joseph-Norbert Provencher, such an Order was required to expand the missionary thrust he envisioned for the Vicariate Apostolic of Hudson's Bay and James Bay.
Provencher had ministered to the Selkirk settlers, the French-Canadian traders, and the Metis from the Catholic mission established in 1818 at Red River in what is today Metropolitan Winnipeg. Lack of resources and personnel, the vastness of the area to be served, and the conflict about the most appropriate methods needed to win over the Indian population, all impeded the evangelizing process. The Hudson's Bay Company, however, which had jurisdiction over the territory Provencher governed, opposed the admission of "foreign" priests from France. Consequently, two Oblates were dispatched from Quebec in 1845, with the added expectation that the Metis and French-Canadian population of Red River would be more open to Canadian-based clergy. And thus began the Oblate venture into the Canadian North West which Huel traces in a forthright, factual manner.
By following the Hudson's Bay Company trade routes, the Oblates proclaimed the gospel to the Native people, initiating them into Christianity through baptism. As Huel points out, the Oblates gained recognition from Pope Pius XI as "specialists in difficult missions" because of their labour under adverse conditions. By 1860, a network of missions was established across the land and complemented with schools, orphanages, and hospitals to mould a more fitting Christian mission often in resistance to acculturation from many of the Native people.
Education and health care were considered vital aspects in white civilization which, in Oblate philosophy, was integrated closely with spiritual and material well-being. To promote these causes, the Oblates acted with the Federal Government on behalf of treaty Indians of the prairies. The question arises as to who benefited from these arrangements. Residential and industrial schools were contentious institutions, pitting Protestants against Catholics, French against English, nuns against priests. Certainly, many Natives believed that the Oblates, with the help of government, advanced a mode of cultural genocide through these schools. This prevailing attitude forced the Oblates to evaluate their position almost one hundred years after the outset of their missionary work in Canada. In 1935-36, Superior General Theodore Laboure conducted a canonical visit of the northern and western missions. His report contained recommendations for change that would make Christianity a more meaningful expression of spiritualit y for Natives.
In this critical study, Raymond Huel provides an analysis of the Oblate missionary experience up to the present period. As such it is a valuable contribution to the history of the Canadian West.
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|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jun 1, 1999|
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