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The Archive of the Jesuits in Canada preserves documents such as dictionaries in Indigenous languages written by the Jesuits of New France.

The Archive of the Jesuits in Canada recently donated an Ojibwe-French handwritten dictionary to the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre. François Dansereau, recently appointed director of the Archive, says that the gift symbolizes the strong commitment of the Jesuits of Canada to truth and reconciliation.

It also illustrates how the values of spiritual accompaniment—humility, deep listening, mutual encounter, authenticity—are at the heart of Jesuit ministries in Canada, well beyond the typical context of individual accompaniment (see here, here, here, and here). Mr. Dansereau explains the work of the Archive in accompanying and facilitating Indigenous community research.

François, can you tell us more about this major gift recently made by the Jesuits of Canada and the Archive of the Jesuits in Canada?

We donated an Ojibwe-French handwritten dictionary, probably created in the 1860s by Jesuit Brother Joseph Jennesseaux, to the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre, affiliated with Algoma University. It is a very small manuscript, the beginning of a dictionary that has not been completed. However, the document was probably used by several Jesuits to communicate with the Indigenous peoples of Sandwich and Wikwemikong, since it was found among the papers of another brother, Charles Lavoie, who died in the early twentieth century.

The donation is part of the long-term relationship-building process.

The idea to give a language manuscript came from the leadership of the Jesuits of Canada: the provincial, Erik Oland, and the socius, Gilles Mongeau, in discussion with Father Peter Bisson, provincial assistant for justice, ecology and Indigenous relations. We had already had a multi-level relationship with the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre over a period of ten years. The donation is part of the long-term relationship-building process. Digitization is important, but there is something about the physical reality of a nineteenth-century manuscript that is quite powerful.

In the context of this important gift, and beyond, what are the values that guide the apostolic work of the Jesuits in Canada?

Jesuit orientations guide the activities of the Archive. The work of communicating with Indigenous researchers and communities is obviously connected to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), as well as to Jesuit participation in the TRC and the request for forgiveness made by the Jesuits of English Canada, which really emphasized the aspect of opening up the Archive to make it accessible to Indigenous communities.

In keeping with these values, what is the role of the Archive of the Jesuits in Canada, especially in relation to Indigenous communities?

The apostolic work of the Archive, as conceived by the Jesuits of Canada, is essentially to be a tool for communication.

Illustrations produced by Jesuits in New France in their ministry with Indigenous people are part of the Jesuit Archive’s collection.

What is the main mission of the Archive of the Jesuits in Canada?

There are several elements. Foremost among them are to ensure the preservation of all that pertains to the Jesuits of Canada since their arrival on Turtle Island in 1611 and to preserve the material and even immaterial culture related to the Archive. The aim is to make it accessible not only to Jesuits but also to researchers, and thus to the general public.

How are Indigenous community relations integrated into external communications with the public?

This is an extremely important issue from both my perspective and that of the Jesuits. Indeed, the Archive is not only a collection of documents that reflect a certain past: there is a whole dimension that becomes activated when people encounter and use the Archive. Different time periods are connected.

Could you tell us more about the importance of digitization and information sharing to facilitate Indigenous communities’ access to information?

We also have a number of elements linked to longer-term projects that are more specific to the concerns of Indigenous researchers, their requests, their requirements. It is important to be flexible, and not rigid, in our approach to these requests. We want to be open, to dialogue in a spirit of discernment, to be able to adapt appropriately. Very often, access to information involves digitization, which requires a lot of time and resources. Digitization and information sharing are the basis for fostering Indigenous research, enabling the communities to make the Archive their own.

We want to be open, to dialogue in a spirit of discernment, to be able to adapt appropriately.

Finally, how is the commitment to truth and reconciliation manifested in the work of the Archive of the Jesuits in Canada?

The gift of the dictionary comes as a result of the Jesuits’ involvement in the TRC and Pope Francis’s penitential pilgrimage in the summer of 2022, as a way to demonstrate the Jesuit commitment to truth and reconciliation and the revitalization of Indigenous languages.

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