Archbishop James Weisgerber of Manitoba, long a friend of Indigenous Peoples in Canada, has announced his retirement. But he will continue to be a staunch advocate of justice for the land’s original inhabitants.
"I don't think there is any issue facing Canadians more serious than this one,” he told Catholic News Service (CNS) on October 28 after Pope Francis announced his acceptance of the archbishop’s resignation. "And I don't think we're taking it that seriously."
Weisgerber, first ordained in 1963 the Regina Archdiocese, was made a bishop in 1996 and then was appointed Archbishop of Winnipeg in 2000, CNS said. All the while he was working with, and learning from, the aboriginal peoples of Canada, who number about 75,000 in the archdiocese.
When revelations about abuses at the country’s residential schools began emerging in 1990, Weisgerber found himself on what he called a "long, steep learning curve,” as he told CNS. He continued his work with aboriginals and in April 2012 was adopted by the Anishinaabe in a Naabaagoondiwin ceremony aimed at furthering the reconciliation process.
Several Christian denominations have repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery, and the World Council of Churches did so in February 2012. The Catholic church has yet to do so, though the Canadian Council of Catholic Bishops added a page devoted to Indigenous Peoples of Canada to its website in January 2012.
Invoking everything from the residential school system to the recent anti-fracking protests by Mi’kmaq in New Brunswick, Weisgerber told CNS that the only way forward is to treat indigenous people in Manitoba and nationwide with respect.
"It's so clear to me that in Manitoba the future is the reconciliation with aboriginal people," Weisgerber said. "The stakes are very high. There can't be winners and losers. Either we all win or we all lose.”