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R.P. René Fumoleau, OMI. (OB33015 - Oblate Collection at the PAA)René Fumoleau, O.M.I.

René Fumoleau was born in Vendée, France, in 1926 and was ordained a member of the Congregation of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate in 1952.  A year later, he arrived in the Northwest Territories where he has devoted his life to serving the Dene of the Mackenzie District of the subarctic (part of the Athapaskan family including the Hare, Dogrib, Slavey, Chipewyan and Kutchin/Loucheux). He is a historian, poet, photographer and film-maker who has used all of these skills to document the lives of the Aboriginal Peoples of the North while accomplishing his pastoral work.  Fr Fumoleau continued in the priest/scholar role of 19th century Oblates such as Fathers Émile Petitot and Valentin Végréville, who studied the languages, culture and traditions of Aboriginal Peoples. Twentieth century peers include Fr Francis Ebner, who assisted by Brother Henri Sareault, collected Aboriginal artifacts through contacts with students and their families. These collections became the basis of the Northern Life Museum.

Fr Fumoleau’s work that is most often cited, whether in the descriptions of Aboriginal studies university courses or treaty litigation, is the benchmark work As Long as This Land Shall Last (1975). Fr fumoleau undertook research in both government and church archives as well as interviewing 70 Dene to determine understandings of Treaties 9 and 11. The title uses the language of the treaties: These treaties promised they could live and hunt in freedom on their ancestral lands, “as long as the sun rises from east to west, as long as the river flows downstream, as long as this land shall last.” The book was dedicated “To the youngest Indian child in the Northwest Territories” and is still in print.   The French-language edition of the book (1994) has a preface by René Dussault, j.c.a. and George Erasmus, co-chairs of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, and they discuss the treaty promises and how they baffled the federal government and its civil servants.  The most recent edition has an afterword by Joanne Barnaby, former Executive Director of the Dene Cultural Institute, in which she talks about the importance of the book, its impacts and outcomes since its publications.

Besides scholarly work, Fr Fumoleau has explored important Native themes in his poetry, photographs and film work and, always, champions Aboriginal rights.  In the 23-minute documentary “I Was Born Here,” a film that he conceived and produced, an “Old Indian of the Mackenzie District, N.W.T. reflects on his land, his People, his values.” He also participated in the filming and production of “God's Explorers,” a film produced and directed by Susan Cardinal, which premiered includes archival footage and interviews with Oblates, Dene people of the Mackenzie Valley and academic historians. Another film, Dene Nation, was released in 1979. His photographs grace various publications and also have been exhibited. He has published a photo album titled Denendeh.

Fr Fumoleau participated in an Elders meeting organized by the Heritage Community Foundation when it was developing the Elder’s Voices website as part of the Alberta Online Encyclopedia – www.albertasource.ca in 2003-04. He allowed the Foundation to use and adapt the 11,000 year Aboriginal timeline in As Long as This Land Shall Last as context for the site.

His non-scholarly publications include Here I Sit,published in1995. It is a collection of short stories, poems and photos about Dene life and experience.  His most recent publication is a collection of poems titled The Secret (published in 1997)in which he again explores Native voice through the recounting of personal stories that cast light on Aboriginal identity and experience as well as Native land claims, spirituality, and health and other concerns.

Réné Fumeleau - As Long As This Land Shall Stand

Rene Fumoleau - As Long As This Land Shall LastRené Fumoleau, As Long as This Land Shall Last: A History of Treaties 8 and 11 (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1973).

Resources

René Fumoleau: L’Homme, son oeuvre, sa philosophie et sa vision du Nord Canadien, in l’Aquilon online newspaper http://www.aquilon.nt.ca/FUMOLEAU/index.html, retrieved May 8, 2009.

The BC Catholic: the official newspaper of the archdiocese of Vancouver Website, http://bcc.rcav.org/05-01-24/columns.htm, review by Paul Matthew St. Pierre, retrieved May 8, 2009.

HERE I SIT, by Rene Fumoleau, Novalis, review by Leonard Desroches, Compass http://gvanv.com/compass/arch/v1402/gleaning.html, retrieved May 8, 2009.

 

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