Indigenous faith groups in northwestern Ontario seek to make strides after papal apology


An Indian residential school survivor and church leader in Thunder Bay, Ont., is among those optimistic that last week’s papal apology will help the healing process for Canada’s Indigenous peoples.

Pope Francis has apologized for the conduct of some members of the Roman Catholic Church regarding Canada’s residential school system, after a week of public and private meetings with First Nations, Inuit and Métis delegations.

“I feel that Pope Francis has sincerity in his heart, his mind and his words,” said Esther Diabo, a residential school survivor who lives in Thunder Bay.

Diabo said she expects a positive outcome from the delegation’s meeting with the Pope and believes the apology will allow the next steps in the healing process for many First Nations people.

“I also felt he took responsibility and responsibility to admit the wrongs done to our Anishinaabe people,” she said. “I personally would like to move forward in my own life while continuing to heal on a daily basis.”

Esther Diabo, a residential school survivor living in Thunder Bay, Ont., says she believes Pope Francis’ apology was sincere. (Radio Canada)

Diabo attended St. Joseph’s boarding school in Thunder Bay when she was just five years old, then moved to St. Anne’s boarding school in Fort Albany before returning home when she was 13.

She said hearing the Pope’s words “I’m so sorry” was moving for her both as a survivor of residential schools and as someone who relied on her own Catholic faith without ever straying from the Anishinaabe teachings.

“I have such strong faith in God, in our Creator that something good was going to come out of it, and that’s how you have to see it, with optimism. You have to, you know, reach out and ask for that help. if that’s what you’re looking for.”

The trip to the Vatican, an “important step”

the President of the Thunder Bay and District Métis Council said it was also closely monitoring the results of the visit to the Vatican and called the trip a “milestone” for the Métis community in the Thunder Bay District.

“We needed our survivors to be heard. We need the church to engage in the real acts of this reconciliation, and we are very proud of the Métis delegation that met with this pope, including these elders, because they were able to come forward and tell their stories “said Wendy Houston.

The mixed-race delegation held a private audience at the Vatican and was the first of three delegations to begin meetings. Francis sat and listened to three Métis survivors of church-run residential schools tell their stories.

A Métis delegation presents Pope Francis with a symbolic pair of red moccasins

The group explained that the moccasins were presented “as a sign of the willingness of the mixed-race people to forgive if there is meaningful action on the part of the church.” 0:40

Canada forced more than 150,000 First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children to attend residential schools between the 1880s and 1997, a policy the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called “cultural genocide.”

Houston said while the pope’s apology and the trip itself were historic, one of its greatest moments was seeing Inuit, Métis and First Nations people stand together and support each other.

“Those were the challenges faced by all these indigenous peoples and groups that were there. It was a direct result of the deep intergenerational trauma experienced by families and communities torn apart by the residential school system,” she added. noted.

“So to see the three together, intertwined… It was very emotional for me to watch all week.”

Bishops pledge $30 million, local dioceses seek steps forward

As indigenous groups continue to unveil the results of the delegation’s trip to Rome, Roman Catholic dioceses across the country are also considering what action to take.

At the local level, Bishop Fred Colli said that Diocese of Thunder Bay has been working for over a year to build relationships with Indigenous peoples and support the healing process for Residential School Survivors.

Bishop Fred Colli of Thunder Bay says he is “very pleased” with the pope’s apology and his parish had discussions over the weekend about the Vatican visit. (Diocese of Thunder Bay/YouTube)

Following the discovery of unmarked graves across Canada last summer, as well as new revelations about the failure of the Catholic Church’s compensation efforts, the Canadian Council of Catholic Bishops has announced a new campaign funding of $30 million over five years.

“They’re the ones who are going to see how the funding is, how the money is being spent, and then the indigenous communities who come up with projects are going to monitor them in their areas. So we’re hoping to get it right in the future to help establish relationships in a positive way,” Colli said of the funding.

Colli added that he was working with a committee of alumni to implement projects and programs to “deepen relationships.”

“We are considering youth education projects like community gardens and drumming circles. We are considering pastoral and bereavement counseling, as well as support for residential school survivors.

He also said the Diocese of Thunder Bay is gathering all documents and records that will be needed to help identify graves that are unmarked or contain residential school histories.

He said while the work is ongoing, he recognizes the process will take time and healing will not happen overnight.