WARNING: This story contains disturbing details.
For Phil Fontaine, watching the heartfelt apology delivered by Pope Francis at the site of one of Canada’s largest residential schools on Monday illuminated the way forward for survivors and others impacted by the institutions’ legacy.
“I’m as optimistic as I was earlier today… The Pope didn’t just apologize. He didn’t just say, ‘I’m sorry.’ I think he mapped out the work ahead of us,” Fontaine, the former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, who is from Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba, told the CBC show. The National Monday evening.
The apology came on the first day of what the pope called his ‘penitential pilgrimage’, when he apologized for members of the Catholic Church who cooperated with Canada’s ‘devastating’ residential school policy .
He said the forced assimilation of indigenous peoples into Christian society destroyed their cultures, separated their families and marginalized generations in ways that are still felt today.
“I humbly ask forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against Indigenous peoples,” Francis told thousands of Indigenous people, including many survivors, who converged on Maskwacis, Alberta, about 100 kilometers south of ‘Edmonton.
While the Pope apologized for the actions of individual Catholics and asked for forgiveness, he did not explicitly apologize for the role of the Church as an institution.
WATCH | Phil Fontaine on what Pope’s apology means to him:
But Fontaine, an Indian residential school survivor from Fort Alexander in Manitoba who led the negotiations that led to the 2006 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, said accepting the apology on behalf of the man speaking on behalf of the Catholic Church is an important step. moving forward.
“If we are true to our word in terms of healing and reconciliation, we will have to be able to forgive. There has come before us a humble person asking for forgiveness, and of course you have to take that seriously.
“Because we also want to move on. We want to find peace and comfort in our lives. And if we can’t bring ourselves to forgive, then this matter, this burden that we’ve had to carry for years and years, which ‘ll go on forever.”
Details of the words “silenced”: survivor
Not all survivors were so pleased with the pope’s apology. Vivian Ketchum, a survivor of the Cecilia Jeffery Indian Residential School in Kenora who now lives in Winnipeg, said it felt like the pontiff’s words “missed” the whole truth about the effect the institutions have to this day.
“I think the sincerity may have been there, but I don’t think he fully understands the whole situation and what was done to us: second generation, third generation. The loss of language, of culture,” said Ketchum, who was physically and sexually abused as a child at boarding school in the 1970s.
She said she also noticed that the Pope did not mention any of the sexual abuse suffered by children in institutions, nor the impact that day schools had on the children forced to attend them.
“He missed a lot,” Ketchum said. “I didn’t see that as a full apology.”
She also took issue with the traditional Aboriginal headdress that Chief Wilton Littlechild, a former commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, gave the pope following the pontiff’s long-awaited apology.
“That hairstyle was a little too much,” she said.
Apologies will take a while to sink in
Lynda Neckoway of Fox Lake Cree Nation said it was an emotional day listening to Winnipeg’s apology.
“It has affected so many people… in a way that was so violent in the past and then they suffer the consequences. the way I was treated, the children were treated, the grandchildren were treated,” she said.
“There was a lot of anger, resentment and alcoholism. A little violence… And some people still suffer from it today. Lots of grandchildren, because of the way the survivors still carry the past with them and on others.”
The day school survivor, who was forced to attend one of The Pas’ institutions for three years, said she thinks it will take time for some to come to terms with the Pope’s words.
“It’s someone who says, ‘I’m sorry for what I did’ and asks for forgiveness. [is] ask for forgiveness,” Neckoway said.
Cindy Woodhouse, regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations in Manitoba, said it was also an emotional day for her, alongside residential school survivors in Alberta on Monday.
Woodhouse, a day school survivor who presented the pope with an eagle feather when she met him, said she recognized people who heard the pope’s apology had mixed reactions.
“I know there are so many opinions. I know a lot of people are hurting,” she said.
“People are at different stages on their journey to forgiveness and reconciliation…Canada’s dark past. [in] different places when it comes to this. Some are more advanced and others are just beginning to realize that what was done to them was wrong.”
Woodhouse said she thinks the apology is a step in the right direction – although there is still work to be done to address the harms of residential schools, particularly in relation to child welfare at home. Canada.
“If there’s a way to fix anything, it’s to fix child welfare. It’s to get families back together,” she said.
“I just hope that…our country unites much stronger with First Nations people and with Catholics. I really look forward to us all working together and talking to each other.”
Support is available to anyone affected by their residential school experience or recent reports.
A National Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line has been established to provide support to former students and those affected. People can access emotional referral and crisis services by calling the 24-hour National Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419.
Mental health counseling and crisis support is also available 24/7 through the Hope for Wellness Helpline at 1-855-242-3310 or by online chat at www.hopeforwellness.ca.