The residential school system was a big part of Mabel Brown’s family history.
At age six, his mother was sent to St. Peter’s Indian Residential School in Hay River, Northwest Territories.
Brown herself also attended boarding schools with her eight siblings. She bounced from Stringer Hall in Inuvik to Bompas Hall in Fort Simpson and then to Akaitcho Hall in Yellowknife where she eventually graduated.
And it left a lasting impact on her family to this day, according to the Inuvik resident.
“When I was triggered it spread to my daughter and then to my grandson who is 25 right now,” said Brown, who is Gwich’in.
“So the proof is there. You can see how we are, our behaviors and how we walk through life, the struggles we’ve had and the difficulties we’ve had – difficulty sometimes learning, difficulty establishing relationships. relationships with each other, difficulties in marriage, difficulties with alcohol.”
Pope Francis will be in Edmonton on July 25 and 26 to meet with Indigenous peoples in Canada and apologize in person for the abuses suffered in residential schools at the hands of the Catholic Church.
Brown will be one of 40 delegates from 18 Northwest Territories communities sent by the Diocese of MacKenzie Fort-Smith for the papal visit. Many others in the area are also planning to make the trip.
But Brown says she would have found a way to see the pope in person, one way or another. For her, having the chance to be there in person is an opportunity to let go of some of the trauma.
“I just hope this time is the time he goes to say ‘I’m sorry,'” Brown said. “Say it through his mouth, with his heart and really feel it for us, what happened. Because it’s almost like something is killing us and we need that thing to go.”
Indigenous governments have recognized the significance of the event for many people and are providing travel assistance to ensure that all who wish can attend.
The Tłı̨chǫ Government provides air transportation from Whatì, Gamètì and Wekweètì to Yellowknife for Tłı̨chǫ Elders planning to travel to Lac Ste. Anne for the papal visit. It also provides buses for seniors and survivors of residential schools in Behchokò.
The Gwich’in Tribal Council will provide funds to help Gwich’in participants attend the papal visit.
More than one in six community members in Colville Lake, Northwest Territories, pop. 129, is considering going there, according to Wilbert Kochon, the Grand Chief of the Sahtu region.
mother and daughter trip
Descendants of residential school survivors are also planning to participate in the papal visit.
Susan Enge and her 25-year-old daughter, Nicole Enge, will travel to Edmonton from Fort Smith, Northwest Territories next weekend.
As second- and third-generation residential school survivors, they saw the impact of residential schools on Susan’s mother and other relatives, Susan Enge said.
She describes the visit as “a way for us to reconcile a path filled with wounds”.
The Enge family is part of the North Slave Métis Alliance and also has ancestry in the South Slave region.
Nicole Enge represents a younger generation of Métis who have experienced intergenerational trauma as a result of residential schools.
“You see how the trauma affects the family… When you see that growing up, it affects you in a totally different way,” Nicole Enge said. “Like you’re not there physically, but you still feel it in your genes. You see it in your family.”
She says she has seen a lot of disappointment among her peers over the years.
“I’m a bit skeptical but I would say I’m also hopeful,” Nicole Enge said.
“There is a lot of anger after the first apology [from Prime Minister Stephen Harper] in 2008 and it’s been over 10 years and there’s been so much change since…and it’s really sparked this apology now.”
When she meets the Pope, Nicole Enge will wear a beaded necklace made by an elder who is a survivor of residential schools and beaded earrings made by a young artisan from Yellowknife to reflect the two different perspectives of those affected by the boarding schools.
“It reinforces the liveliness of our culture. We have endured all these monstrosities and we have overcome, we have prospered, we have come back from the brink of genocide…wearing this piece of jewelry symbolizes that beyond words,” he said. she declared.
Susan Enge said seeing the papal apology would offer closure to her family.
“I see a resolution in my mind and heart of what happened,” Susan Enge said. “And I hope my mother who is now deceased and all of my loved ones who have suffered are happy to see this happening.”
Support is available for anyone affected by residential schools and those triggered by the latest reports.
The Indian Residential School Survivor Society (IRSSS) can be contacted toll free at 1-800-721-0066.
A National Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line has been established to provide support to former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis hotline: 1-866-925-4419.
Plus, the NWT Helpline offers free support to residents of the Northwest Territories, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It’s 100% free and confidential. The NWT Helpline also offers an option for follow-up calls. Residents can call the helpline at 1-800-661-0844.
In Nunavut, the Kamatsiaqtut Helpline is open 24 hours a day at 1-800-265-3333. People are welcome to call for any reason.