MONTREAL, July 21, 2022 (AFP) – The arrival of Pope Francis in Canada on Sunday, where he is expected to apologize to indigenous peoples for more than a century of abuse in Church-run schools, is sparking hope, but also caution.
AFP interviewed three members of indigenous communities: an artist, a community leader and a former student of one of the boarding schools where children endured the policy of assimilation that isolated them from their family, language and culture. their culture.
Here is a summary of those conversations:
– ‘Mixed Feelings’ – Singer, songwriter and activist from the Salluit Inuk community in the Far North, Elisapie Isaac has become a voice for her people.
“I have mixed feelings about the arrival of the pope,” says the 45-year-old singer, who recently appealed to Quebec Prime Minister François Legault on social media to recognize the “systemic racism” in this Canadian province.
“I think it must be good for the survivors to feel that there is action, to know that something is happening. But I also think that the devotees were probably the worst for the natives, “said she said, adding that “it’s very easy” to apologize now, decades later.
“We still suffer a lot from trauma, which is passed on from generation to generation,” assured the artist, who now lives in Montreal and is delighted to see that people today want to learn and understand Aboriginal history.
For Isaac, it is time for institutions like the Catholic Church to do their part, otherwise “it is very difficult to move forward as a society and to live together, to feel that there is balance and harmony”.
– ‘A long road’ – Wilton ‘Willie’ Littlechild celebrated his 78th birthday on April 1, 2022, the same day he and an indigenous delegation met Francis in Rome. At the meeting, the pontiff apologized and promised to repeat the request to Canada.
“I couldn’t have had a better birthday present,” says Littlechild, who spent 14 years at one of the boarding schools from the age of 6.
On trips to the Vatican, they invited the pope to come to Canada and personally apologize to its indigenous population of more than 1.6 million people. Of this total, almost a third identify as Roman Catholic.
“To heal…we need excuses,” he told AFP.
Throughout his life, Littlechild worked tirelessly for Indigenous communities, including at the United Nations, where he helped draft the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The man claims that he survived his studies in boarding school thanks to studies and sport.
“Sport saved my life, hockey saved my life,” he says, recalling the night outs to try to forget the abuse.
And finally, “I have forgiven.”
‘It’s definitely not the end’ – Billy Morin, chief of the Enoch Cree Nation, an Indigenous community near Edmonton of about 2,700 people, says he ‘hopes’ Francis’ visit will help heal the wounds left by the underperforming government’s forced assimilation policy through education.
“Not everyone wants the pope to apologize. They don’t care,” he said.
“But for many elderly people, it is a moment of closure (…) a moment of healing, a moment of celebration, a moment of reflection”.
At 35, Morin was grateful to have avoided being sent off to boarding school, like his grandparents were.
But like many Indigenous peoples in Canada, he has not escaped this painful legacy, which has left an intergenerational trauma, often manifested in alcoholism and emotional estrangement, that continues to affect his family and community.
“Our grandparents and our parents had to relearn how to be good parents,” said the father of four, who is only now learning the language he believes to be his ancestors.
Morin considers François’ visit to be “a good thing (…) because, if he did not, this case would still be pending”.
It’s just a “step” on a “healing journey”, he said. “It’s definitely not the end.”
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