WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
Indigenous representatives from British Columbia who are preparing to travel to Edmonton this weekend for the Pope’s first stop on his papal visit to Canada say they hope the tight itinerary will still allow them the important conversations that they hope to have.
Pope Francis will stop in Alberta, Quebec and Nunavut July 24-29 to apologize in person for the wrongs done to Indigenous peoples by Roman Catholic priests and nuns who ran abusive residential schools in Canada.
Deborah Page of Sai’kuz First Nation says her mother and grandmother were survivors of residential schools and suffered intergenerational trauma for years.
“My family has suffered a lot of losses,” she told CBC News. “All my aunts died before they were 51. My mother died when she was 49. My other aunt died when she was 35. My sister committed suicide in 2008, then my little niece was found in a downtown women’s shelter after overdosing.”
She said she was disappointed with the pope’s apology when First Nations, Inuit and Métis delegations visited the Vatican earlier this year.
“I was a bit disappointed that he apologized for what some Catholic members did to harm our people, but he didn’t apologize for the church as a whole,” Page said.
The Reverend Carmen Lansdowne, a member of the Heitsulk First Nation and executive director of Vancouver’s First United Church, said this weekend’s trip was too short to have in-depth conversations with the pope, but hopes it will serve as a catalyst for a deeper meeting.
“It’s such a short visit, and there’s no way to replicate the amount of witnessing and in-depth listening that is required,” she said.
She says she fears the trip will focus on planned Mass celebrations and a limited time and not allow enough time for meaningful conversations and meetings with survivors.
“Indigenous people are inviting the Pope and asking him to come to Canada to listen and truly understand why a full apology, restitution and honorable amends are needed,” Landsdowne said.
Rosanne Casimir, the chief of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc near Kamloops, British Columbia, says she and other First Nation delegates will be in Edmonton this weekend and hope to hear a broad apology from the pope.
“Going to Edmonton is going to be something I look forward to,” she said on CBC. Sunrise South, “We had the opportunity to really share with him the impacts of residential schools and the apology.”
She says more conversations are needed with the pope to discuss issues such as raising funds for residential school survivors, sharing artifacts and, most importantly, releasing all historical documents related to residential schools.
“The apology for our last papal visit … did not contain any act of contrition or what will be the retribution on the path to reconciliation and healing,” Casimir said.
Landsdowne says she hopes this visit will be the start of a deeper dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church.
“Even if this journey does not contain as much dialogue as I would like, I hope that [the Pope’s] her heart and mind have changed, and this trip inspires her with a desire to really…make amends for the Indigenous peoples of Canada,” she said.
Support is available for anyone affected by the lingering effects of residential schools and those triggered by the latest reports. The Indian Residential School Survivor Society can be reached 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. Access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour National Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419.
In British Columbia, the KUU-US Crisis Line Society provides a First Nations and Indigenous-specific crisis line available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s toll-free and can be reached at 1-800- 588-8717 or online at kuu-uscrisisline.com.