Friday, July 27, 2012

Manitoulin Island - M'Chigeenga

 Manitoulin Island is home to multiple Indian tribes of which M'Chigeeng (part of the Ojibwe First Nation) is one of the largest.  At the M'Chigeeng reserve is located the Ojibwe Cultural Centre which promotes the language and culture of its people.  It was unfortunately closed for a private event when we went to visit, but we were able to see various hieroglyphics painted on stones around the grounds.  Of particular interest was a large drawing of what looked like a family unit holding hands.  The father and mother had what appeared to be horns on their heads and the father had a little white cross on the left side of his chest.  To my western culturally-trained eyes, the "devil horns" vs "religious cross" seemed to convey mixed symbolism.  I wondered what it actually meant in the M'Chigeeng culture.

Across the street from the Ojibwe Cultural Centre is a uniquely beautiful church called Immaculate Conception Catholic Church which was built and decorated to reflect a fascinating blend of both Catholic and native Indian faiths and cultures. The outer panels of the doors were painted in vibrant colours with a symbol that looked like a sun, while the inner panels sported intricately carved animals including the eagle, moose, deer, etc.) representing each of the clans. The church is 12-sided to simulate the shape of a wigwam, with an opening at the top, reminiscent of the structures we saw at Sainte-Marie Amongst the Hurons.  Planks are artisically arranged over the opening so that when the light shines through, it looks like a star (of Bethlehem?).  Instead of pews, there were weaved mats placed on the tiered steps surrounding the altar to denote seating positions.

A native youth from the area was on hand to provide a tour of the church and to convey its eventful history.  He explained how this was a replacement church since the original one blew up in a propane explosion.  The remnants of a mangled bell sits outside to the right of the church as a reminder of its sad past.  Miraculously, the white statue of the Virgin Mary remained unscathed and still stands in its original position to the left of the church.

Our tour guide described the various native artworks that made up the altar and pictures on the surrounding the walls representing the stations of the cross.   On each of the four pillars holding up the ceiling was hung a different coloured dream-catcher, with each colour representing different races (Red=native, Yellow=Asian, Black=Africans, White=White Man).  The guide's own grandmother weaved the dream-catchers.  Each individual weaving tells a different tale, although he did not know himself how to read them.

The Indian influence on the Catholic religion was apparent in the art work.  There were the typical renderings of Jesus on the cross, but in these versions, the Jesus figure is dressed in native robes.  On the floor stood statues of religious saints next to ones of an eagle and tortoise. 

We went into Lillian's Crafts to buy hawberry and wild blueberry jams and while inside, visited their museum of native arts.  There we saw beautifully crafted quill baskets with intricate designs on the lids, made from dyed porcupine quills.  Outside, and in front of Maggie's Cafe were more examples of totem poles and sculptures made from various iron and wood pieces.  There was a particularly whimsical one that looked like a turkey..

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic to see someone wrote about a church I visited and recalled as really interesting and distinct when I was 11 years old on a school trip from Toronto. Always wondered what the name was and your photos helped solve my curiosity.

    Also, kudos on retiring at 48. That is something truly special on its own, let alone with a partner in crime alongside for the ride.