Germaine McKenzie was filled with hope as she travelled the eight hours from her Innu First Nation on Quebec’s North Shore to attend the mass delivered by Pope Francis on Thursday morning at the Ste-Anne-de-Beaupré Basilica, near Quebec City.
Ultimately, the experience was disappointing for McKenzie, who survived nine years in a residential school as a child. But she says it reaffirmed something she’s been practising for years: leaning on community and Indigenous spirituality to heal, instead of colonialist institutions.
While the papal visit represented an important milestone for many survivors gathered in Ste-Anne-de-Beaupré, to some like McKenzie, it became less about the Pope and more about the power of assembly.
“I thought I would be moved, emotionally. I thought, with everything us survivors have been through, finally, the Pope’s visit would be big, that it would be historic — but we didn’t hear one word on residential schools,” at the basilica McKenzie said, outside.
In his sermon, Pope Francis said Catholics should “take a new look at many of the events of our own history.”
“Brothers and sisters, these are our own questions, and they are the burning questions that this pilgrim Church in Canada is asking, with heartfelt sorrow, on its difficult and demanding journey of healing and reconciliation,” he said, in Spanish.
Later that evening, the Pope did, for the first time in his visit to Canada, acknowledge the sexual abuse inflicted on “minors and vulnerable people.”
McKenzie, who is a social worker in Uashat Mak Mani-utenam where she is from, was under the impression the Pope wanted to move on from the apology he made in Lac Ste. Anne, Alta., and reiterated Wednesday in Quebec City.
“I’m not ready, though. I still have dreams that I am at the residential school,” she said.
McKenzie predicts survivors will now “stick among ourselves. We heal together, with Indigenous spirituality. That’s what I prefer. We talk about our wounds, what we went through, and about where we’re going.”
Romeo Saganash, a residential school survivor from Waswanipi in central Quebec and a former MP, also found the Pope’s apologies “hugely disappointing.”
“A lot of us had seen this as an incredible opportunity for the Pope … to apologize on behalf of the institution, the Roman Catholic Church,” Saganash said on CBC Quebec’s Breakaway Thursday evening.
Another shortcoming, according to Indigenous leaders, is that the Pope has not addressed the doctrine of discovery, the centuries-old edict which paved the way for much of the colonization of the New World. For decades, there have been calls to rescind the papal bulls that make up the doctrine.
That shortcoming was thrust, literally, into the faces of clergy members and dignitaries Thursday, when documentary filmmaker Sarain Fox and her cousin Chelsea Brunelle unfurled a large white banner at the basilica’s pulpit that said “Rescind the Doctrine,” as Francis was being seated.
“I never want to be seen as disrespectful to our survivors, but this is to move the conversation forward and sometimes the young people need to stand up and be rabble rousers,” Fox told CBC afterward.
Taking back control
Jimmy Peter Einish, a survivor of the Sixties Scoop, sat under some trees near the basilica, among family members all wearing bright orange shirts representing the Every Child Matters movement.
Einish is from the Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamach near the Quebec border with Newfoundland and Labrador, 950 kilometres north of Quebec City. Being among other survivors was what was most important to him.
“To be comfortable with other survivors and supporters, it’s just something everybody needs sometimes, even myself. The support is there,” he said. “Because I think everybody has to understand that we went through a lot, we Indigenous people.”
The systems that created residential schools, day schools and the Sixties Scoop — and the resulting trauma — are still at play today, Einish said.
Echoing McKenzie, Einish said the way forward is to reaffirm Indigenous self-governance. He recently suggested to a leader in his community that the Naskapi Nation create its own board of directors for youth protection.
“We were taken away from our parents, from our family. Well, we still have that youth protection system, that keeps taking our children, our grandchildren away to foster homes and placed in a different environment than the one they were raised in,” he said.
Based on 2016 census data, 52.2 per cent of children in foster care in Canada are Indigenous, but represent only 7.7 per cent of the child population.
“To start something, to make choices for ourselves and good services; for our youth to not be taken from our community,” is what Einish would like to see.
Raquel Bacon, who is from the same community as Einish, said the papal apology and sermon brought her solace, while also stirring up a range of emotions about her mother’s experience in residential school.
“I just can’t picture her being taken away. I think she left for two years, around five years old. And it hurts,” Bacon said, adding she wondered what the people taking her mother said to her grandmother at the time.
McKenzie, who travelled alone to Quebec to attend the mass amid her summer vacation, says she looked forward to pursuing her healing journey on her own terms.
“We are no longer under submission. We’re going forward,” she said. “No more, ‘Do this, do that.'”
Friday, McKenzie will be leaving Quebec City and continuing her vacation with a visit to her son in Gatineau.
Pope Francis is set to depart Quebec on Friday at 12:45 p.m. for Iqaluit. In the morning before his departure, he met first with members of the Society of Jesus, followed by a delegation of Indigenous peoples from Eastern Canada.
Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools or by the latest reports.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.
Mental health counselling and crisis support is also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the Hope for Wellness hotline at 1-855-242-3310 or by online chat at www.hopeforwellness.ca.
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