(Alexis First Nation Chief Tony Alexis with Pope Francis in Rome. Photo courtesy: Stephanie Alexis)
APTN National News
It took 20 years for a dream of having the Lord’s Prayer translated into the Nakota Sioux language come to fruition, but for former Alexis Nakoda Sioux Nation chief Rod Alexis, the hard work was well worth the time it took.
“My grandfather told me that the words (of our language) themselves has a spirit,” said Alexis.
Over the years Alexis embarked on a journey across the great Sioux tribes from his own nation approximately 70 km northwest of Edmonton and down into the United States to translate from elders the full Lord’s Prayer.
It was a daunting task to say the least, and most of the elders are now passed away.
“Our language is not easy…What does the word speak? How does it capture you? You have to factor all of that in,” he said.
But the end goal was to bring the transcribed prayer to the famous Pater Noster (“Our Father”) church in Jerusalem, Israel to join the over 60 plaques in different languages from around the world there that bear the Lord’s Prayer.
Alexis joined a delegation including current Alexis Chief Tony Alexis last month there- the church stands on the traditional site where Christians believe Jesus taught his disciples the Lord’s Prayer.
Chief Tony Alexis said the Christian, Catholic faith in his community is strong and the Alexis Nakota Sioux tribe happened to get the last plaque spot available at the site to proudly display their language.
“There was only one spot left there and ours was the last spot,” said Tony.
“The Nakota Sioux got the last spot on the wall… The fact that our language was honoured there, is pretty awesome.”
Rod Alexis said it was like leaving their mark there and ensuring a place for their peoples in the “heavenlies.”
“Our mark is also there so that we would not be forgotten when the time (end) comes. For that reason I had to finish (my mission). In case something like that happens, we are also given the opportunity to walk to heaven with the nations,” he said.
From Israel they traveled to Rome, where Chief Tony Alexis was asked to deliver hundreds of prayer requests on behalf of people from his own community and across Canada to the Pope.
“Anything to do that my people want for health and wellness to support them, as a chief it’s my duty to do that. I brought those prayers and tensions there,” he said.
Dressed in full regalia both Chiefs met Pope Francis and gained an audience with him. Father Les Kwihkowski who also joined the chiefs and who serves the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation said they were well received and even treated as celebrities in Italy.
“The chiefs were very happy and the Pope was very happy. For the healing for all native people. I find it was very good. In Rome, Italy the chiefs made headlines in the news media there. They were loved,” said Kwihkowski.
Chief Tony Alexis admitted it was overwhelming to meet with the Pope, but his main goal was to bring the concerns of his people to Francis.
“There’s a lot of people who are asking for help, whether it’s for health and wellness. In our culture, in our custom, when they say that creator ‘Waka’ is going to bless one person, then everybody in that group would be blessed. When you think about that- especially Indigenous people across the lands, our culture is so beautiful that someone is praying for us all the time. I’m more than happy to do my part. It’s an experience I’ll never forget- I feel privileged out of respect of my people Alexis.”
He gifted the Pope a hand painted drum made by Alexis artist Eugene Alexis and talked with Francis about an issue that he believes is the current pressing crisis facing humanity.
“The only thing I mentioned to him when I gave him the drum was about climate change. Because we both agree on it. When I handed it to him I said, ‘This drum represents the heartbeat of Mother Earth,’ That was the most in regards to issues that I got to share.”
Many have asked him since his return if he inquired about an apology to be given regarding the residential school tragedy.
“My main attention was to bring the prayers of the people,” said Tony. “These (prayers) are very sensitive issues, there are serious issues and prayers needed. I don’t take it lightly.”
But Father Les said an apology was already given in Canada,
“It’s not up to me to say what to do or not to do, I am not the Pope. I know that in Canada an apology was already done by the oblates in 1990 or 1991.”
Rod Alexis says that the past is the past and that it’s time to move on. The transcribed prayer he brought over that now sits in Israel signifies forgiveness.
“I think we need to go forward from this time on. In this prayer it says “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” That word (forgive) itself was targeted. The ones that harmed us. In order for us to walk and heal we have to learn how to do that. And we can’t just keep continuing going on unforgiving, because it’s like an ulcer that never heals. That was one of the key reasons why this whole prayer was so important for this whole community,” he said.
Chief Tony Alexis also extended an invitation for the Pope to attend the Lac Ste. Anne Pilgrimage, an annual gathering that sees thousands of Catholic believer’s camp and gather near the shores of the lake near the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation. There they believe are healing waters for prayer and healing.
Then, they parted with a hug that he brought back home to share.
“People asked me before I left if by some chance if you could get to get a hug, bring it back. So I brought the hug back to give to the families. Elders who saw me believed I brought back some of Waka back with me.”