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348 The Canadian Historical Review Dissonant Worlds: Roger Vandersteene Among the Cree. EARLE H. WAUGH. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press 1996. Pp. xiv, 344, illus. $39ยท95 Roger Vandersteene was an Oblate missionary who worked among the Cree of northern Alberta in the years after the Second World War. Vandersteene , or 'Steentje' as he was known to his friends and colleagues, was born in Belgium of Flemish ancestry and arrived in Canada in 1946, where he spent the next three decades ministering to the northern communities of Grouard, Wabasca, Little Red River, Trout Lake, Jean d'Or, Garden River, and Fox Lake. By the time of his death in 1976, he had attained a remarkable status among the people of these northern villages. His role as a Cree medicine man (an honour conferred on him at Trout Lake in 1960), his intimate knowledge of Cree language and culture, his attempts to integrate Cree spirituality with Christian traditions through a revision of the Catholic Mass based on the wikokewin, along with his art, poetry, and other writings, all contributed to Vandersteene's ambitious attempt to build, in the words of the author, 'a new religious reality: a strong spiritually powerful Cree Church, a magnificent Cree formation of Christian life' (264). It was a remarkable career that brought the Flemish missionary much attention in Canada and elevated him to almost celebrity status in his native Belgium. Dissonant Worlds is more than simply a biography of Vandersteene and his work. Earle Waugh, a professor of the history of religions at the University of Alberta, takes the reader through an in-depth analysis of 'Steentje's' roots and influences, his appreciation of Cree spirituality , and his cultural conversion to a Cree world view. Within a loose chronological format, Waugh focuses on the complex ideas, historical themes, and psychological underpinnings that informed Vandersteene's teachings, poetry, and art, as well as his understanding of the place of . spirituality in everyday life at a time of tremendous social and political upheaval among Aboriginal communities in the north. Dissonant Worlds is aptly titled, for it is the theme of dissonance that best describes Vandersteene's life. Well aware that the incongruity between Aboriginal spirituality and traditional Catholicism had contributed to the marginalization of the Cree, Vandersteene believed that the pursuit of a new religion that united Cree traditions and Catholi- .cism beyond anything proposed by earlier missionaries constituted a dramatic revision of Catholic ritual. In his mission work and in such books as Wabasca, an account of his years among the Cree published Book Reviews 349 in 1960, Vandersteene sought new forms of religious expression and ritual that, while rooted in Catholic dogma, incorporated Cree interpretive dimensions to such an extent as to constitute a new religious reality. But as Waugh points out, Vandersteene's quest created considerable dissonance within the missionary's life, forcing him continually to evaluate his own directions and transitions. Determined to promote a new religious reality at such traditional and isolated hunting and trapping communities as Trout Lake, Vandersteene was later to become despondent when his work took him to the Peace River missions that were characterized by poverty, alcoholism, and the loss of a traditional Cree identity. Ultimately, Waugh concludes, Vandersteene's noble attempts to synthesize a genuinely Cree Catholic Church based on traditional Cree spirituality and a ritual encounter with Cree ancestors 'found no lasting expression.' Vandersteene's vision, he suggests, was more suited to the Cree ofthe 1760s than ofthe 1960s, and created an isolationist, ghetto church that both underestimated Cree connections to the religious lives of other Canadians and did not take into account the way the Cree 'see themselves as an essential ingredient of the country's soul' (301). Dissonant Worlds is solid biographical writing, strongly felt and carefully reasoned. Waugh is no standoffish biographer, and he has endeavoured to get as close to his subject as he can. His prose conveys a deep and sincere attempt to discover the many sides of the Flemish priest, this 'religious Ernest Hemingway' whose deeply personal poetry and art could question faith while celebrating nature. (Many ofVandersteene 's paintings and drawings are reproduced in the book, a number in colour...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-1093
Print ISSN
0008-3755
Pages
pp. 348-349
Launched on MUSE
2016-04-06
Open Access
No
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