UNAMEN SHIPU/LA ROMAINE, QUEBEC | Rachel is Innu. She lives in a small isolated village in the Basse-Côte-Nord, where the road does not. The mother of this family was well known the father Joveneau, who has lived in her community for nearly 40 years. Fortunately, he has not assaulted her, but the woman 52-year-old is well aware of the horrors that the missionary would have committed against several members of his community. In spite of all, his christian faith remains steadfast and she wants more of the presence of the priest currently serving in his village.
The first time that I saw Rachel, she is seated, rosary in hand, to recite aloud the Our Father and the hailMary in innu-aimun, the language of the Innu. Have you ever heard of this language? I do not understand anything, but even the most banal of conversations resounds like a hymn to joy. Elsewhere, Rachel radiates a good mood. When I approach it to initiate an exchange, the Native greets me with a laugh of welcome. My healthy curiosity in her regard were not equal to the opening that I now manifest.
To believe to hope
Rachel prays for his brother in hospital in Sept-Îles. Lung problems serious have forced his eldest son to leave Unamen Shipu, where there is a health center, to go in the city, 400 kilometres from the innu community. For the friendly woman, can prayer help his brother. She is convinced. That is why she took up her rosary several times a day. It never leaves her. To strength to be handled, its object of devotion has ended up breaking.
It was then that she returned from a visit to the bedside of his brother that I met Rachel. We are then both in the only boat that allows, in winter, to the inhabitants of the isolated villages of the Basse-Côte-Nord exit. To get to Sept-Îles, the fifty-year-old had previously been riding a snowmobile up to Kegaska, where route 138 begins, or stops, depending on the direction from which it arrives. This small village of 127 souls only, she was able to travel by car to the hospital. In Basse-Côte-Nord, travel is exotic, nordic!
After discussing a thousand and one subjects while Rachel tries to repair her rosary, I dare him to ask how she managed to remain a devout christian in spite of all the suffering caused by the oblate father who would have battered the Lower North Shore for decades. The evidence are overwhelming against the priest, who was called “Jesus”, just keep piling up : sexual assaults, physical assaults, forced marriages and deportations of families. Thirty of the victims are inscribed in a collective action against two oblate fathers, whose father Joveneau.
A faith that is miraculous
Rachel stares at me straight in the eyes with a look full of sweetness. “Faith makes miracles”, she said to me, adding in the same breath that his belief in God and the obscenities perpetrated by the missionary did not link together.
It is then that she tells me about her pregnancy, the unexpected result of several miscarriages, and after having been making the pilgrimage to Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré. The Innu, who had a great respect for grandparents, have a deep attachment to the respect of the grand-mother of Jesus. Each year, many of them are embarking on a long journey of several hundred kilometres to participate in this pilgrimage.
The miracle which is estimated to have benefited Rachel, who will be a grandma for the first time in the next few days, has sealed for ever the strength of his faith come what may. But it is otherwise for other parishioners in the small community of Unamen Shipu, which has a thousand Innu.
A church now empty
The joie de vivre of the true believer fades when she tells me that, now, only a dozen Innu go to mass when the priest is in the village. “There is not so long ago, the church was full. There was not even enough place. Parishioners attended mass standing!”
Although many factors may explain the declining interest of the Innu of Unamen Shipu to the mass, Rachel makes a direct link with the damage caused by the missionary Joveneau, who would have abused his moral authority to commit a host of assaults against his parishioners, causing at the same time the rejection of religious practice by many.
Most of the presence of the priest
Despite all this, every two weeks, a priest of origin cameroon settled in the small town clinging to the river’s edge to the mass or to celebrate weddings and funerals. There remains for 14 days. During the first half of the month, so no celebrating gives life to the church. A situation that would like to see change Rachel, who wants the presence of a priest permanently in his village. “For me, to have a priest in my community, it is vital! I received all my sacraments, from baptism to marriage and I want all to receive by my death.”
For the fervent catholic, a christian burial and a burial in the cemetery are the wishes of end-of-life the most basic. “If ever there was more of a priest, who will I bury?”, I questioned Rachel with concern.
The rosary broke
The rosary broke that trying to repair the devotee when our conversation is a reflection of its community; broken by a man of God, who would have dishonored the trust that the Innu had placed in him.
The community as a whole has been assaulted in what she had deeper. The church is deserted, it is the heart of the village which is reached.
But Rachel, she holds out hope that everything will be better. “Faith can do miracles. Don’t forget this!”, she said to me as a goodbye.