Kanesatake community members among those to attend pope apology

·4 min read

Kanehsata’kehró:non were among those in Quebec City to bear witness to historic words of contrition from pope Francis, the leader of a faith that has justified and perpetuated genocide against Indigenous Peoples for hundreds of years.

The apology reflects the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 58th call to action, which demands that the pope deliver an apology to survivors of residential schools, their families, and Indigenous communities.

“For many survivors, they’ve been waiting many, many, many years to have an apology, to have those words,” said Kanehsata’kehró:non Wanda Gabriel, who was asked by Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) to train 60 people tasked with providing on-the-ground, trauma-informed support to residential school survivors who were present.

The pope’s apology comes too late to be heard by Kanesatake residential school survivors, the last of whom passed away late last year.

“I think about my grandmother and I try to imagine, what would be the significance for her?” said Gabriel, whose grandmother attended Shingwauk Indian Residential School. “It’s a mixed bag of emotions. There’s some sadness. There’s some anger.”

The pope’s visit began on Sunday in Alberta, where he remained until travelling to Quebec on Wednesday. His events in the province included a public address at the Plains of Abraham on July 27, a mass for 2,000 people at the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré on the morning of July 28, and a prayer the same evening at Quebec City’s Basilica of Notre-Dame.

Gabriel brought with her a copy of the text of the Book of Genesis translated to Kanien’kéha by her uncle, Harvey Satewas Gabriel, which she is trying to give to the pope to take with him back to the Vatican.

While she believes the two days of the visit needed to be about being present for survivors, supporting them in whatever it means to them, she said the pope’s words must be matched by concrete action.

“The apology, although it may give soothing to people in the moment, it’s not helping in the long term, and it’s not creating a paradigm shift in how the church responds or is in relationship with Indigenous people,” she said.

She pointed out that the pope is being asked to revoke the Doctrine of Discovery, a 15th-century decree known as a “Papal Bull” that declared lands not possessed by Christians as eligible to be claimed by them.

The doctrine “allowed for the theft of our ancestral lands under the pretenses that should the people of the land not follow Christianity, these ‘barbarous’ people are to be converted and their land is available for discovery,” said Mohawk Council of Kanesatake (MCK) chief Amy Beauvais, who also attended the pope’s visit.

“I will be there on behalf of our community to witness this apology and, should we have the opportunity to speak, be a voice on behalf of our people,” she said ahead of the events.

“I see it (the visit) as an initial point of contact to begin voicing our needs regarding restitution.”

“Reconciliation requires action, not passiveness,” wrote Murray Sinclair, who was chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, in a statement he released online earlier this week.

While he welcomed an apology, Sinclair criticized the pope’s words in Alberta as having elided the Catholic Church’s central, institutional role in the abusive residential school system by shifting blame to individual church members.

“It is important to underscore that the Church was not just an agent of the state, nor simply a participant in government policy, but was a lead co-author of the darkest chapters in the history of this land,” Sinclair wrote.

“Majority of us don’t care about the visit,” said Kanehsata’kehró:non Karonhienhawe Nicholas, who did not attend and who emphasized that she is not a follower of the church or any Christian tradition.

“Many of us are livid about the fact people are accepting empty words that mean absolutely nothing. He didn’t even apologize on behalf of the whole church, just on behalf of the abusers,” she said.

“It’s 2022,” added Nicholas. “It’s time that that messenger and the queen abolish that whole Doctrine of Discovery and give back what was stolen from us.”


Marcus Bankuti, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door

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