Indigenous traditions enrich Catholic faith


Indigenous traditions enrich Catholic faith

Pictured left: Sr. Eva Solomon and Michael Audraos, author and general editor, respectively, of Come Dance With Me from Novalis Publishing.

It was a double celebration — the launch of a first book of its kind by an Anishinaabe Catholic woman, and a powerful lesson on how a harmonious blend of Indigenous rituals and practices with those of Western Christianity could illuminate the path to a renewed spirit of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and an enriched Catholic Church.

Sr. Eva Solomon’s book Come Dance with Me: A Medicine Wheel Practice of Anishinaabe Catholic Interculturation of Faith was launched Oct. 14 at an event hosted by the Centre on the Churches, Truth and Reconciliation with Indigenous People, a division of the Faculty of Theology at Ottawa’s Saint Paul University. Come Dance With Me is published by Novalis and is its first volume as official publisher for the Centre on the Churches, Truth and Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.

“It’s more than a book launch; it’s the first book of theology in Canada by an Indigenous Catholic woman. It represents the lifelong work of Sr. Eva,” said Michel Andraos, Dean of the Faculty of Theology.

Andraos said it’s a seminal work on interculturation, a concept Solomon has elucidated in the book. He added that it is not only a landmark publication, but also a significant contribution to the process of reconciliation after Pope Francis’ visit to Canada last summer, and the apology he offered to the Indigenous peoples on behalf of the Catholic Church.

“It’s the first of a series that seeks to fulfill recommendations 58 and 60 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” he explained.

Recommendation 58 had called on the Pope to deliver an apology similar to that given to Irish victims of abuse. The series of books, of which Andraos is the general editor, works specifically to fulfill  recommendation 60. This call to action has highlighted the need for Church leaders to work in collaboration with Indigenous elders, schools of theology and other religious training centres to develop and teach curriculum that emphasizes the need to respect Indigenous spirituality in its own right.

Come Dance with Me is the result of a serendipitous meeting between Andraos and the author, and is the adaption of a doctoral dissertation into a more accessible form for students, non-specialists and the general public. Besides an easy-to-read prose style, it includes moving verses of poetry by the author. It explains how the Indigenous world view and the cultural and spiritual practices this inspired — far from being antithetical to Christianity — can enrich and contribute to the religion that Indigenous people have embraced, often at the cost of abandoning their own heritage.

Solomon’s journey from child of residential school survivors to scholar, bridge-builder, author and medicine woman (in a metaphorical sense) is an extraordinary one.

An Anishinaabe from the Ojibway First Nation of Northern Ontario, Solomon is a Sister of St. Joseph of Sault Ste. Marie. Early in life she began to question why Indigenous dances and drumming were labelled “pagan” practices and why she was not allowed to perform them at Church-related events.

From a family of Catholics who were devoted to their religion — despite the pain inflicted on her parents and grandparents by the residential school system — Solomon recalls that she began questioning some aspects of the Church when she was as young as three years of age. Nevertheless, by age four, she knew she was going to be a nun.

Her moment of epiphany came from an alcohol-fuelled tragedy in her family.

“My uncle was severely beaten up by friends while they were drinking, and I asked St. Kateri to heal him,” she said in an interview. “I realized then that alcohol is not the enemy. The root of the problem is that we don’t know who we are, and that we have lost all sense of our human dignity, and we have no concept of the beauty and goodness within ourselves.”

From then on, she resolved to work with her Indigenous brothers and sisters and help them re-discover themselves and walk the path of beauty and goodness.

“At age 14, I was teaching catechism, and by age 17, I had become a Sister,” she said.

Recognizing her gifts as a scholar and teacher, her community sent her to school, first to earn a bachelor’s degree in Lethbridge, Alta., and then for her Doctor of Ministry (D. Min) at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. This is where she met and worked with Andraos who was a professor there at the time. Solomon chose the topic of interculturation for her doctoral dissertation, which Andraos supervised.

This in turn led to Come Dance with Me.

“It’s important to give a voice to theologians like Sr. Eva,” Andraos said. “It adds another dimension to the Catholic Church and enriches it.”

Solomon’s book does not shy away from the truth, and uses the term “cultural genocide” to describe the violence that was perpetrated on her people. But if offers an invitation to join a beautifully choreographed dance for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to move together as equal partners, and celebrate our unity as sisters and brothers in Christ.

By Susan Korah

Published on The Catholic Register website