Mission in Gjoa Haven in the Canadian North


Gjio HavenFifteen thousand years ago the Inuit ancestors arrived in the Arctic. Nomads, they spent winter in igloos and summer in tents made of whale tusks, covered with sealskins. Living far from other people they kept their way of living until the 19th century. Life in the Arctic is very special. Temperatures, during four whole months of darkness, are in the minus fifty degrees. This time of blizzards makes it dangerous to go out. 

Inuit are naturally religious. Before evangelization they strongly believed in spirits  The "Shamanes" would govern the moral life of the clan. Amongst them individualism is unknown. All is done for the good of the community and each one must collaborate for the welfare of all. They do not know who their leader is. It used to be the best hunter who brought the most game for survival against the cold. Because of permafrost there is no vegetation, no wood to start fires. The Inuit still eat raw meat even if their way of life is adapted to a more modern style. 

Gjoa HavenOur Inuit are called "Netsilik Eskimos" name derived from their food the netsiq seal. They live in well-heated small wooden houses. With Government help they have all they need to live a comfortable life but in spite of this they live in Third World conditions. They hold on to their birthplace, their culture, and their mother tongue "Inuktitut". Many have never seen a big city, they travel uniquely to see a doctor or for hospitalization. It is at least four hours by plane.

In my mission the population is 1,100 of which are 500 catholics. The others are from the High Anglican Church. You will find here a primary school, a secondary school, a college, a dispensary and two grocery stores. Our first missionary, in 1951, was Father Henri, OMI. Upon arrival he found 7 igloos and poorly nourished adults and children. Before Mass he made it a point to serve them a hot bowl of soup. He built a stone church, administered penicillin injections, pulled out teeth and what not… Well loved, the people still remember him. You will notice that christianity is still young here.  We need to be supported. There is a dire need to help these people, to help them in their faith and form them in all aspects.   

No religious vocations amongst these people. Since Vatican II we have started to train Inuit couples to become pastoral agents, to be responsible in their Christian communities. So, both man and woman together undertake the responsibility of animating the Sunday gatherings. 

The Diocese is very big, larger than Europe. The trips from one mission to the next are always by plane. At least forty minutes. We have only 8 priests, three lay missionaries, and myself as religious. Many of our missions are vacant.  The priests visit some of them only every three months. This is why it is so important to train competent lay people to celebrate baptisms, funerals and most of all Sunday celebrations. 

Sr. Dorica Sever, f.m.m.


© March 2007