North

Well-known northern priest, photographer Rene Fumoleau has died

Rene Fumoleau, a well-known priest, photographer and storyteller with a long history in the North, has died.

Fumoleau came to the Northwest Territories in 1953, worked closely with the Dene

Rene Fumoleau in 2017. The well-known northerner has died at the age of 93. (Marc Winkler/CBC)

Rene Fumoleau, a well-known priest, photographer and storyteller with a long history in the North, has died.

Fumoleau had been living with dementia. He passed a few minutes before midnight on Tuesday, according to his close friend Patrick Scott. 

It was Fumoleau's birthday. He had just turned 93.

"He was very lucid on Sunday afternoon and he was very happy," Scott said. "He smiled, just a beautiful Rene smile: 'I'm very happy, and I loved my life.'"

Fumoleau was born in France. He was ordained as a Catholic priest in 1952 and came to the Northwest Territories in 1953 as an Oblate missionary.

After resigning from the Oblates, he was made a priest in the Diocese of the Mackenzie, working with the Dene in Fort Good Hope and Deline over the next several decades, according to the NWT Archives.

Fumoleau was an avid photographer, with many of his pictures being sold and published. (NWT Archives)

He did research on Treaty 8 and Treaty 11 and was known as a social justice advocate for the Dene.

His book, "As Long as this Land Shall Last," also researched Indigenous Métis rights, and Canada's dealings with the Métis.

"He took strong stands against the imposition of Euro-Western institutions on the Dene, and he did on a whole bunch of levels," said Scott. "From speaking about the politics of colonization, [to] the way he related to people as a priest.

"He lived what he believed. He didn't just talk about it."

Fumoleau also lived in Lutselk'e and Behchoko, most recently residing at a dementia facility in Yellowknife.

He was an avid photographer, with many of his pictures sold and published, as well as an author and filmmaker. 

However, Scott says that Fumoleau wouldn't want people focusing on his achievements as he is remembered.

"Whatever he was doing wasn't about him, it was about the Dene. Their rights to their homeland, and the tremendous respect he had for them being so gracious, and forgiving, and generous to all of us who have come north."

Fumoleau in 1995. He was also an author and filmmaker. (NWT Archives)

Many close friends had been keeping a vigil with Fumoleau in recent days.

"He was so animated, and so grateful, and he was thanking people," Scott said of Fumoleau's last days.

"Typically we come to a person who is dying and thank him. With all the ability he had, he was thanking others. That was so typically Rene."

With files from Joanne Stassen

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