CANADA-UNITED STATESRemembering an Oblate anthropologist
This article is from The National Post and was written by Joe O’Connor. Used with permission.
Strangers who met him for the first time, often described Father Guy MARY-ROUSSELIERE as being aloof, detached and a little bit lost in his own inner-self.
A gangly limbed Roman Catholic priest, with a lean and upright bearing, Father Mary’s quiet reserve, like the priest’s collar he wore, was partly a disguise. The outer costume of a devoutly religious, yet also profoundly progressive man, who was living elbow to elbow with an Inuit culture dynamically different from the Western one in which the good Father, from Le Mans, France, was raised.
Father Mary lived and worked in Pond Inlet, and parts thereabout in the Central and Eastern Canadian Arctic, from the 1940s until his death, at age 81, in 1994.
During that time he was an artist, an anthropologist, an archeologist, plus a preacher and a missionary. He was a complicated man and, above all, a witness — with a camera, tape recorder, sketchpad and a pen.
Largely unknown outside of his beloved North and
beyond the office walls of the odd academic, Father Mary’s body of work —
writings, recordings, drawings and the photographs seen here — are poignant
snapshots depicting the Inuit people at a moment of transition.
“In his drawings and photographs you can see the proximity he had with the Inuit, the scenes he depicts, perhaps inside an igloo — these are quiet moments and they show how intimate he was with them and he was appreciated by them because of the man he was,” says Frederic Laugrand, an anthropologist at Laval University.
“But also what he showed in his work was a time period where Inuit were starting to live in settlements, and starting a new life. And he showed the tension between this life and the more traditional camp life that was away from the settlements. His work is extremely important.”
Father Mary’s photos, for example, of an Inuit
family sitting on a bed in a shack with newspaper wallpaper, convey a story.
There are tin cups on the table beside the bed. But the family members wear
handmade sealskin boots on their feet.
Here then was a culture with a foot in the past and a foot on the treadmill of what we, and what many of Father Mary’s contemporaries, called progress.
Father Mary understood exactly what was taking place, and while he spoke from the pulpit, and sought converts, he also spoke to the Inuit in their own language. Far from a colonizing priest, he went North in the 1940s and spent the next 50 years listening.
“I don’t see any contradiction between the study of God, in theology, and the study of man, created by God,” the priest said in 1952. “Moreover, I think that anything that helps me to better understand the culture of the people among whom I live is justified.”
Father Mary’s photographs and sketches, or “cartoons” as he deprecatingly described them, are currently being showcased in the Legislative Assembly of Nunavut in an exhibition marking the 100th anniversary (in 2012) of the Catholic presence in the central and eastern Canadian Arctic.
Impressive as the photos are, of even greater importance were the voices that he documented. Father Mary would sit with Inuit elders for hours, traveling to their homes, their hunting camps, to listen to their stories. Oral tales, passed down from generation to generation, about the initiation rituals of a young shaman (think: no water for five days, no food for 10).
Or the origins of “white people,” a race, according to Inuit legend, that were cast out to sea by the Sea Woman in the soft sole of a mukluk with the simplest instructions: “Fend for yourselves without getting wet.”
Father Mary wrote everything down. Without him, many of these stories would have been lost. And he took his photographs, some of which appeared in long ago issues ofNational Geographic. “Father Mary really took the Inuit culture seriously. He respected them, and in his day, that was not something that was easy to do,” Professor Laugrand says.
In the 1970s, he locked collars with Brigitte Bardot, the French movie siren who was campaigning against the seal hunt. The priest argued that hunting was integral to Inuit life, as was the Inuktitut language, an idiom that was under duress from government administrators during the 1950s and 1960s who believed the Inuit people would ultimately be assimilated into Western culture.
“In his own way, Father Mary was very conservative,” says Professor Laugrand. “For instance, he enjoyed doing the Mass in Latin and not adopting the [modernizing] ways of the Vatican II council.
“So there is a tension within the man. On the
Inuit side he went very far, but on the other side he was very attached to
traditional values. And I guess he applied those values to himself — but also
to preserving Inuit traditional values. In many respects, he was a man ahead of
Father Mary died in a fire at the Catholic mission in Pond Inlet on April 23, 1994. He was an old man by then, a wise and somewhat eccentric elder of the Church. The deadly fire consumed countless artifacts, words and photographs of a complicated man with a sharp eye, a keen ear — and a largely forgotten legacy.
Arnprior, Ontario, commemorated “International World Day of Peace” with the dedication of both the Peace Pole and Peace Garden at the Oblates’ Galilee Centre on September 21.
The image of the peace pole came after the destruction of Nagasaki in 1945 by the atomic bomb. In 1955 Masahisa Goi made a statement for peace by using a vertical stone with a declaration of peace on it. Since that day, these memorials for peace have been planted around the world.
Over 50 people gathered at the newly planted garden by the main entrance of Galilee Centre. What was once a simple entrance has become an “oasis of peace” and color. The Peace Pole was made from Red Cedar by the father and son team of Noel and Joel Remy of Arnprior who also built the small roof garden next to the main door. The gardens were designed, built and cared for by the Arnprior team of Ann and Bill Lamb and Fr. Jack LAU.
As the service began, participants were in front of the building waiting patiently to cross the threshold, but before they could enter, four members of the community unveiled four plaques, each in a different language, saying: “May Peace Prevail on the Earth”. After the applause, they all crossed over the old stone threshold into the sacred space of the circular garden. Different members from the community read from a litany of prayers for peace from various world faith traditions. For many it may have been the first time to hear a prayer from the Baha’I faith or the Toa tradition. Each prayer came from the depth of the human spirit, where the Divine dwells; all yearn for peace.
Mayor David Reid of Arnprior and Deputy-Mayor Christine Blimkie of McNab/Braeside were both present and shared their thoughts about peace in our local community. The Deputy-Mayor said that the moment she crossed the threshold, she felt the spirit of peace.
This event was in collaboration with the Initiative of the Department of Peace Canada and the Missionary Oblates’ Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Committee. (www.galileecentre.com)