Demonstrators in Saskatoon urge Roman Catholic Church to take action on Indigenous assimilation

·3 min read
A demonstrator holds up a sign that reads 'No Pride In Genocide' outside of St. Paul's Co-Cathedral in Saskatoon on Sunday morning. Many in attendance at the demonstration said they want to see the Roman Catholic Church held accountable for the role it played in Canada's Indian Residential Assimilation System.  (Morgan Modjeski/CBC  - image credit)
A demonstrator holds up a sign that reads 'No Pride In Genocide' outside of St. Paul's Co-Cathedral in Saskatoon on Sunday morning. Many in attendance at the demonstration said they want to see the Roman Catholic Church held accountable for the role it played in Canada's Indian Residential Assimilation System. (Morgan Modjeski/CBC - image credit)

A placard reading "Thou shalt not murder" covered with a red hand print was among the signs carried by demonstrators outside Saskatoon's St. Paul Roman Catholic Co-Cathedral Sunday morning.

Demonstrators, many clad in orange, say they want to send a clear message to the Roman Catholic Church: They want action and accountability about the continuing effects of Canada's Indian Residential Assimilation System, which robbed Indigenous people of their culture and loved ones.

Earlier this week, several hand prints were added to the church's exterior in red paint, alongside the words "We Were Children," in a demonstration after the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves in British Columbia and Saskatchewan.

The paint was quickly removed, and the act condemned, but church officials say they understand people are angry.

Sarah Smokeyday, a Kinistin Saulteaux Nation band member who organized the event, hopes the gathering of more than 50 will spark church leadership: While they can remove the demonstrative artwork, they can't deny those calling for accountability.

"I feel like the Catholic church is really trying to wash their hands of their ownership of the issues that happened," she said. "I wanted to make sure they can't just wash us away."

Smokeyday says Indigenous community members want information from the centres to find stolen loved ones, an apology from Pope Francis on Canadian soil and, most importantly, action.

She says the church's power is rooted in the congregation, and says those in the faith must call for change and demand church leadership stop protecting those who caused so much harm.

Morgan Modjeski/CBC
Morgan Modjeski/CBC

"The congregation can really implement a lot of change by asking these questions," Smokeyday said.

"Sunday shouldn't be a celebration," she added. "It should be a time for the congregation to really call out and put a face and name to what is happening."

CBC News reached out to St. Paul for a response to the demonstration, but one was not immediately received.

Stephanie Moss, a Catholic, says she's coming to a number of hard realizations as a member of the church. The discovery of the graves left her shaken, as a human and Catholic, and she's doing what she can to support her Indigenous neighbours in mourning.

"The main question I asked myself was: 'What would Jesus do?'" she said, her voice shaking. "He would sit with people who are suffering. He would sit beside them, and not only that, he would lift them up. So I came here to just sit in their pain, to feel them and to be there for them."

Moss says she wants to show those grieving there are good Catholics who care, are willing to listen, and while it will never be enough, do everything they can to help them heal. She says for those in the church who are still questioning its role in the deaths, need to step back and listen.

"Please educate yourself on what has happened," she said, acknowledging she still has work to do.

"Just reach out and show your support and hold space for the Indigenous people right now," she said. "That is the very bare minimum that you can do as a Catholic, as a follower of Jesus, as a human being."

Smokeyday, who works as a justice advocate, says colonial systems separating Indigenous families still exist, but in different forms.

Morgan Modjeski/CBC News
Morgan Modjeski/CBC News

She says this is why it's important that funding be diverted from Child and Family Services and the justice system to Indigenous communities, so families who suffered colonial trauma can get the support they need to heal.

"They grew up in a school, with priests and nuns with no love, no compassion, and then they're expected to be able to know those skills and implement those in their parenting," Smokeyday said. "And instead of support, our children are taken and put into systems, whether it be the justice system or the foster system, and those services are provided so much financial support."

It would only take "a fraction" of those budgets to do critical work lifting up Indigenous families and communities.

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