Worried about the youth, in the wake of suicides

At a recent meeting of the Ministries Programme, here at the Anishinabe Spiritual Centre, we discussed the current situation in our local Native communities. The number one concern of the participants was and is the young people on the reserves.

A desire was expressed to reach out and support these young people as an Anishinabe Spiritual Centre community, and to discern together how we might be able to do so.

Going through adolescence is not an easy time, as we all know. We struggle to find 

ourselves at this time of life, amidst a variety of competing influences. Here  at the Anishinabe Spiritual Centre, and in the surrounding communities, we mourn the fact  that the struggles  involved in growing up and taking on the mantle of adulthood have contributed to the suicides of some of our young people.

Whitefish River First Nation (WRFN) is a small community on the north shore of Lake Huron, about a 20 minute drive from the Centre. A number of Anishinabe Spiritual Centre staff members, Ministries participants, and other guests come from this community. WRFN has a fairly small population, with 1200 band members, 440 of whom live on the reserve. This community has suffered the loss of four people who have taken their own lives on the reserve, since February of 2009. All four were teenagers or young adults. Such losses prompt the members of the Ministries community and many others, such as Chief Shining Turtle of WRFN, to consider what might be done, what the community might do, to try to avoid such grievous events in the future. Such premature deaths also prompted a local newspaper, The Manitoulin Expositor, to publish a series of articles on the issue of suicide.

In one Expositor article, Elaine Johnston, executive director of the health authority that serves five local First Nations communities, suggested that it is helpful to talk directly to a person, if one suspects they might be having suicidal person, if one suspects they might be having suicidal thoughts. Her organization also helps to spread the word about crisis help lines.

Beyond such more immediate preventative measures, Ms. Johnston stresses the importance of strengthening families: “How do we encourage talking together, eating together, showing love?” Chief Shining Turtle wants community programs to be developed by the community itself, and wants them to address the needs of the whole person: spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical.

Here at the Anishinabe Spiritual Centre, we endeavour to take part in the struggles of our surrounding communities. We also hope to live up to our name, to be a spiritual centre for these communities. One of our Ministries participants recently commented that the predicament of the youth these days is that they lack any sense of a spirituality – whether Christian or traditional. May the youth, and may we all, grow in our sense of the presence of God in the world and in our lives, that we might see the goodness of life despite and through its many challenges.







Autumn Retreat Days at Anderson Lake

Dianne Musgrove presents a gift to Tarcia

Amidst the cooling days of fall, Tarcia Gerwing from Guelph came to lead a  group of the faithful in a prayer-filled three days of reflection and quiet meditation on the contemplative rules of Saints Benedict and Francis.


Reflections were interlaced with Gregorian chant and the gentle music of female mystics, whose words were put to reflective melodies. Tarcia’s quiet, modulated tones and the summoning of her “singing monk’s bowl” calmed everyone. Her gentle method of teaching was interspersed with many personal memories of her parents’ and siblings’ down-to-earth spirituality. Laughter and spontaneous prayer songs lent to a tranquil experience. At times, there were breakthrough “ahh” moments for some of the participants.

Silence was observed for most of the two days among most of the participants, allowing for some to talk at meal times and during the 

teaching and sharing sessions. The retreatants were also encouraged to go outside and take walks amid nature, in solitude and silence. Mass was celebrated each day in the larger Chapel, and included traditional Native smudging and the use of a hand drum to accompany songs.

Tarcia’s initial talk encouraged us to focus on Creation this weekend, and to try to really “listen” and “hear God” all around us, “to see God’s hand in all things”. 

The food prepared was, as always, delicious and very tasty, kudos to the cooks. The Centre staff also were attentive to the needs of the participants and provided a warm and relaxed environment.

Dianne Musgrove presents a gift to Tarcia

After the final Mass, on behalf of the retreatants, small tokens of appreciation were given to Tarcia, Gary & Linda (who had accompanied Tarcia from Guelph), the cooks, and the Centre staff. They included gifts of sacred sage, sweetgrass, and tobacco for their journey and to say Migwetch for sharing their blessings with us. The retreat ended with prayer, song, and sharing warm hugs and final farewells. Father David also assured us that Tarcia would return some time again, perhaps in the Spring, to lead another session. 

Story submitted by Dianne Musgrove, Ministries Programme participant


Message from the ASC Director

David Shulist

I was in the chapel the other morning & I watched a squirrel searching for his breakfast.  He was leaping across from branch to branch, with an ease that any dancer, familiar to such heights, would display. No symphony to accompany every precise move, but only the unstoppable northeast winds off of Anderson Lake howled in the background.   The choreography became trepid as this little creature would venture out onto the thinnest & supplest of branches to get the food that was out on the end.    

                 Life here at Anishinabe Spiritual Centre (ASC) has been quite a dance.  Since my arrival as new Director of the ASC on Anderson Lake in May, I have seen life teem.  We all know what dramatic changes occur from early spring  to early summer—the Centre has been no exception.  Fr. Mike Stogre, S.J., willingly handed over the duties of director to me.  Br. Gerry Forest returned, to keep the financial records in shape.  And then joining me as new members of ASC have been Fr. Alex Kirsten (from Midland)  & Paul Robson (Toronto via Nepal). Also on staff are Gerrie MacGregor  & Sylvia Shawanda, where kitchen is their domain, and Leonard Cywink  where every physical part of this Centre is his concern as maintenance man & builder.  And the latest member to join us is Nichkin, our dog.  Along with this group, there are Frs Doug McCarthy & Jim Kelly who are also part of the staff, and live and work in Native communities on Manitoulin Island.

So we are all being stretched: some in making room and others in finding their place in this setting, beautiful & so honest in its full display of seasons.  So far we have shared together two of them & we are into our third one: the time we have to go out on a limb & collect food, create programmes, hopefully all nourishment in the end, so that others like you feel welcomed and or want to help in some way to keep the ASC thriving.  This newsletter, Storyteller, is one attempt.  

There is so much more that I want to say & tell but for now, let us keep in touch. It is a privilege to be here & together I hope we can go out on a limb.  Miigwetch. 

Fr. David Shulist SJDavid Shulist


Cross-Canada walkers visit Anishinabe Spiritual Centre

Walk for Justice

We were most pleased, recently, to welcome walkers from the west. A group of Native men and women set out from Vancouver on June 21st, National Aboriginal Day, planning to walk all the way to Ottawa. By the 29th of August they had reached our neck of the woods, and stayed here for two nights.

Walk for Justice

   These sure-footed travellers belong toa group called Walk4Justice. One of the walkers, Robert, is originally from Nelson House, Manitoba, and now lives in Vancouver. He explained that the goals of the walk were to raise awareness and to protest inaction regarding Native people who have gone missing or have been killed, throughout the country and particularly on the “Highway of Tears” in B.C. They want a national symposium or inquiry to be held on this issue. They were planning to hold an event on Parliament Hill, at the end of the journey. (That event has now taken place, on the 19th of September.)

   Here, by the shores of Anderson Lake, they were met by the ASC community and by a women’s hand drum group from M’Chigeeng First Nation. They drummed, prayed, and told stories, and at the end of the day we ate together. One of the walkers, an artist herself – a totem pole carver – was impressed and took photos of some of the artwork here.     

   Undoubtedly, this courageous and dedicated group faced their daily challenges along the way. Here at the Centre, the day had fallen and some of the group had yet to arrive. Some had to go out and search for the others. It was no easy task, over the thousands of kilometres that they had travelled, and the hundreds that they had still to travel, to keep oneself committed to such a daunting trek. Surely their companionship and their good cause kept them going.

For more information on Walk4Justice, visit: www.fnbc.info/walk4justice


Belgian Jesuit speaks about restorative justice

Fr. Philippe Landenne SJ

We were fortunate to have Fr. Philippe Landenne SJ, from the French Belgian Province, spend some time with us recently.  Fr. Philippe has worked in prison ministry in Belgium for 25 years. He also founded a community, “Catacombs”, that welcomes former inmates who have just left prison.

Fr. Philippe Landenne SJ

    This was not the first time in Canada for Philippe. In 2005, he spent six months in Ottawa. There, he met Pierre Allard, who was then the Director of Chaplaincy for the Correctional Service of Canada. It was through Mr. Allard that Philippe was introduced to restorative justice, and Philippe has been working in that field ever since.

    While he was with us, Philippe presented an evening on this topic of restorative justice.  He showed us an excellent documentary about the Hollow Water Native band in Manitoba, which has adopted a community-based healing circle with a restorative justice approach. He explained the difference between restorative and punitive justice. He challenged us to question our society`s punitive system, and suggested that Christianity, with its rich tradition of reconciliation, has something to contribute to this claimed Native tradition of community justice and healing circles. We were inspired to want to learn more, and Philippe offered this work to us as a possible area to focus on here at the Centre.

    Philippe also visited with some local Native groups who practise alternative forms of justice. He visited them in the company of the new director of the Centre, Fr. David Shulist. Philippe and David also had time to enjoy the natural beauty of the area, going on a couple of canoe trips. It was Philippe’s first time canoeing, and he proved himself well. We hope he is able to return for further work in restorative justice, and also no doubt for more canoeing and swimming.


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