Saskatchewan Indigenous Dancer Reflects on Emotional Vatican Experience

Kevin Haywahe has danced for many audiences around the world over the years, but says his recent trip to the Vatican was unforgettable.

Haywahe, a member of the Carry the Kettle Nakoda Nation in Saskatchewan, danced during the historic meeting between Pope Francis and Indigenous people who came from Canada to demand an apology for the church’s role in residential schools.

Haywahe said that during his dance he met the pope’s eyes and thought he saw tears.

“It was very spiritual, very emotional. Another very epic moment there, a historic moment,” Haywahe said. “I wanted them to feel that spirit of our people, which he did.”

Members of the Assembly of First Nations perform in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, Thursday, March 31, 2022. Pope Francis welcomed First Nations delegations to the Vatican. They sought excuses for the role of the Catholic Church in running Canada’s notorious residential schools for Indigenous children. (Alessandra Tarantino/Associated Press)

Haywahe said the emotional scene helped alleviate some indigenous elders’ skepticism during the trip and their concerns that the pope was not going to apologize. Sure enough, the next day, Pope Francis apologized and told the group that he was planning to come to Canada in September.

The Pontiff apologized for the role of some members of the Roman Catholic Church, but not for the church’s overall involvement in creating the residential school system. Still, many believe the visit was an important step in the journey of reconciliation for those who suffered intergenerational abuse and trauma as a result of residential schools in Canada.

Watch the events of April 1, 2022 at the Vatican, including Haywahe’s performance, on the official Vatican YouTube channel linked below.

Many of Haywahe’s family members were forced to attend boarding schools. He himself attended Sacred Heart Day School in Montmartre, Saskatchewan. He said while dancing in the Vatican, he prayed to God for direction, and for priests and bishops to understand the pain his ancestors endured during their years in school and beyond.

“For me, in his eyes, he felt that pain. He felt the humility of it,” Haywahe said.

For me, in his eyes, he felt that pain. He felt the humility of it.”– Kevin Haywahe, Indigenous Dancer

Haywahe was invited to go to Rome as part of a delegation with the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations. In the Vatican, he performed a traditional warrior dance from the north, which he has known since he was a young boy.

The FSIN posted about the dance on its Facebook page, saying Haywahe was “dancing for every residential school survivor in this room, and around the world, who needed to hear the drum and heal that morning.” . He also thanked Haywahe for allowing people to witness “the most powerful message ever delivered to the church that has committed genocide against our people for generations.”

Haywahe said that when the dance was over, he didn’t feel like he needed to shake hands with the pope, like some others did.

“The spirit was there. The spirit of our Creator and our loved ones. Everyone,” Haywahe said. “We are now in a healing process. It is at the beginning.”

LISTEN | Kevin Haywahe spoke with host Stefani Langeneger on The Morning Edition:

Kevin Haywahe talks about dancing for the pope

Kevin Haywahe talks about dancing for the pope 2:27