Connect with us

Métis Nation Saskatchewan Business Magazine | Sask Métis News | Métis Nation Entrepreneurs

Métis Nation Saskatchewan Business Magazine | Sask Métis News | Métis Nation Entrepreneurs

A Pope’s apology for residential schools gives way to a river of tears, generations of anguish — and ‘hope shining brightly’


Entrepreneurs

A Pope’s apology for residential schools gives way to a river of tears, generations of anguish — and ‘hope shining brightly’

Warning: This story discusses residential schools and the abuse that took place there.

Seated in the ornate Clementine Hall in the Apostolic Palace next to Elder Angie Crerar, a residential school survivor, Cassidy Caron turned the page of an English translation as she listened to Pope Francis speak.

She held the translated remarks up to Crerar and pointed a finger to four words Caron had not expected to see.

“I am very sorry.”

The tears immediately started to flow.

“She just burst into tears,” said Caron, president of the Métis National Council, on Friday, as she described the reaction of Crerar, 85, an elder from the Métis Nation in Alberta who was taken from home along with her two sisters at a young age to attend residential school.

“She was so moved. I feel as though she just didn’t expect that to happen today. … I think a lot of us were taken by surprise that it actually did happen today. And that’s extremely historic and it’s important and it matters.”

It was a moment for which some residential school survivors have been waiting most of their lives, as the Pope apologized for the Catholic Church’s role in this country’s brutal residential school system.

“I want to say to you with all my heart: I am very sorry,” the Pontiff said in Italian before a room of nearly 200 Indigenous delegates representing the First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities.

“And I join my brothers, the Canadian bishops, in asking your pardon.”

Francis said he felt shame and sorrow that Catholics, particularly those in charge of education, caused such significant harm. He also said he will come to Canada, possibly in the summer.

The hour-long meeting was a mix of solemn prayer and moments of laughter, music and dance — marking the end of the five-day trip by Indigenous delegations to the Vatican and the beginning of the next steps in what some see as potential healing and reconciliation between the Catholic Church and the Indigenous peoples.

Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, said that in the moment of the apology, he couldn’t help but think about how people can change the world, and about how there could be a path toward justice.

“Behind the coverups, behind the indifference over a 100 years, behind the lies, behind the lack of justice, this Pope — Pope Francis — decided to go right through it and decided to speak words that First Nations, Inuit and Métis have been longing to hear for decades,” Obed said.

Nearly three-quarters of Canada’s 130 residential schools were run by Roman Catholic missionary congregations, which an estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend. The others were run by the Presbyterian, Anglican and United churches, which have all apologized for the policy and abuses, as have the Catholic Bishops of Canada and the Canadian government.

Last May, the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Nation announced the discovery of an estimated 200 potential gravesites near Kamloops, B.C., that were found using ground-penetrating radar. It was Canada’s largest Indigenous residential school and the discovery of the graves was the first of numerous, similar grim sites across the country in the months that have followed.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s final report said 4,000 to 6,000 children died at the schools, which is believed to be a conservative estimate.

Chief Gerald Antoine, the Assembly of First Nations delegation lead, said hearing the apology was like walking through the snow and seeing fresh moose tracks.

“That is the feeling that I have, because there is a possibility,” Antoine said standing just beyond St. Peter’s Square.

First Nations’ Chief Gerald Antoine echoed the sentiment, saying Francis recognized the cultural genocide that had been inflicted on Indigenous peoples.

“Today is a day that we’ve been waiting for. And certainly one that will be uplifted in our history,” he said. “It’s a historical first step, however, only a first step.”

He and other Indigenous leaders said there was far more for the church to do on the path of reconciliation, but that for now Indigenous leaders insisted on being involved in organizing the papal visit to make sure Francis stops in places that hold spiritual importance to their people.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he looks forward to Francis coming to Canada to deliver an apology in person and commended the bravery and determination of survivors who advocated for it.

“Today’s apology is a step forward in acknowledging the truth of our past in order to right historical wrongs, but there’s still work to be done,” he said in Ottawa.

THE MOST POWERFUL SALE & AFFILIATE PLATFORM AVAILABLE!

There's no credit card required! No fees ever.

Create Your Free Account Now!

Susan Beaudin of the Cowessess First Nation in southern Saskatchewan, who turned down an invitation to see the Pope due to health concern amid the pandemic, said she knew the Pontiff would apologize for the church’s horrible deed.

“He had not choice because of the recovery of all those children and unmarked graves. Many Catholics have left the church after that,” said the Regina education consultant. “They had to do it for the church’s only healing.”

The Cowessess First Nation announced last summer it had located about 750 unmarked graves at a former residential school site.

All week, Beaudin said she had been glued to the TV and internet to look for updates about the Indigenous delegates’ trip to Rome. All the memories of her days spent at the Marieval and Lebret residential schools re-emerged, painfully.

“I started remembering how the trauma I experienced at residential school continues to affect my life and the life of my sisters, my brothers, my children, my grandchildren and now my great grandchildren, the broken relationships in our family,” said Beaudin, whose parents and seven of the 11 siblings had all attended residential schools.

“It all goes right back to the residential school experience and you don’t heal from that trauma. You continue through addictions or all kinds of bad things you do to yourself. Thank God, I never did that in my life, but the trauma still upsets me every day.”

As tears streamed down her face, she said she had to talk to her inner-self, whom she named “Little Susie,” to compose and reassure herself that everything would be fine. Then on Friday, she shed more tears, but these, she said, were the tears of joy.

“I felt so happy for my siblings and the many survivors who need to hear that apology, whether it’s part of their healing or just something that made them feel good in this one moment in time,” said Beaudin, who was thrilled to hear the Pope’s apology on Friday, her 71st birthday.

“I watched the delegates with the Pope and they spoke of their spiritual self. I was crying because I was so proud of them. I was so proud of my people because they went there and accomplished what they went for. For me, that hope just started shining brightly.”

Yet to others, like Gerald Ballantyne of the Cree First Nation, the Pope’s statement was just a symbolic speech with empty words.

“Did the Pope even mention the children? No, he didn’t. He did not recognize my grandparents’ death. Or my parents,” asked the 47-year-old, a fifth-generation residential school survivor who attended Timber Bay residential school and Prince Albert residential school.

Ballantyne’s own children will be the first in five generations who aren’t in residential school. Despite the change, the traumas are still felt.

“I still have a lot of animosity in regards to the government of Canada or all the churches that were involved. A lot of anger,” he said.

For Caron of the Métis National Council, it was only one step on a long journey toward reconciliation, but also an extremely meaningful one.

She said it took some time for her to feel the full weight of that moment. After the Pope delivered his remarks, during a ceremony, she was overcome with emotion.

“We had our young people sitting in front of him playing their fiddle, playing our Métis music, displaying our resiliency and our pride as Métis people. And that’s when it hit me, about how important this moment was,” Caron said. “And that we’re still here.”

On a truly historic day, as part of an audience with a man who is arguably one of the world’s most influential people, Caron said what stood out most was his humanity.

When one delegate asked for a hug, the Pope happily obliged. When the fiddlers finished their performance, he gave them a cheerful thumbs up.

She remembers how, when they delivered a gift to the Pontiff, a book of Métis stories, he gave Crerar a light tap on the cheek.

When Caron shook the Pope’s hand, he looked to her and said “Thank you for your help.”

“He recognizes and he understands that much (more) work has to be done. And he’s also asked for our help to do this work, which is very positive,” Caron said.

The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line is available 24 hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of a residential school experience. Support is available at 1-866-925-4419.

With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press

Omar Mosleh is an Edmonton-based reporter for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @OmarMosleh

Subscribe to the newsletter news

We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe

Metis Studies

Online Entrepreneurs

Top Stories

To Top