Leaders of Maskwacis look forward to welcoming Pope Francis to their lands

·6 min read

(ANNews) – The four Nations of Maskwacis – Ermineskin, Samson, Louis Bull and Montana Cree Nations – are looking forward to the pope’s much-anticipated visit to their territory on July 25.

“This is a pivotal moment for the world to witness and understand the impacts of the intergenerational traumas suffered by Indigenous people in the residential school systems in Canada and around the world,” reads a statement from the Maskwacis Cree Tribal Council. “This is an important step towards reconciliation for everyone to be part of, to collaborate for a true sense of truth and reconciliation.”

“For six years the Truth and Reconciliation Commission listened to the lived experiences of residential school survivors; we heard over 7000 testimonies,” said former TRC commissioner Chief Wilton Littlechild.

“For me, it’s been mixed emotions because I spent 11 years in Ermineskin Residential School, and a few more years in another school. But it’s not about me – it’s about all the other students we heard from, many times through tears and anger.”

The IRS survivors want to hear Pope Francis, head of the catholic church deliver an apology on our lands and territories, said Chief Littlechild.

We are also responsible to the students and survivors who went ahead in their spiritual journeys and never got to hear the words, I am sorry, he added. His Holiness wants to spend as much time as possible listening to the stories of those who survived residential schools.

Chief Littlechild shared that he asked the pope to endorse the Ten Principles of Reconciliation. “It’s about peaceful coexistence,” he said.

Ermineskin Cree Nation Chief Randy Ermineskin said that 80 percent of the students who attended Canada’s Indian residential schools are not here anymore. “I am going to listen on their behalf,” he explained. “I made a vow to one of my classmates who is no longer here. Before he passed away, he asked that I be his voice.”

“It was supposed to be an educational journey, but it wasn’t.”

He added that there are a lot of mixed emotions about the Pope’s visit to Maskwacis. There are some members who will not attend because it is too triggering.

However, said Ermineskin, for the last 20 years Chief Wilton Littlechild has been requesting that the Pope come here to Canada and apologize to the survivors and their families who attended residential schools.

“There is a call to action from the TRC, number 58, to have the Pope apologize on Canadian soil. It’s so important… People want closure.”

The media has a role to play in telling the truth about what happened at Canada’s residential schools, he added, and educators must also share the truth about what happened to the students and survivors in these institutions.

Louis Bull Tribe Chief Desmond Bull said that he is the product of intergenerational trauma.

Chief Bull heard the stories of residential schools from his parents and grandparents. Indigenous parenting skills were and continue to be negatively impacted by Canada’s policies including residential schools, the sixties scoop and the current child welfare system, he added.

“Parents forgot how to take care of their kids.”

According to federal statistics 52.2% of children in foster care are Indigenous but account for only 7.7% of the child population according to Census 2016. This means 14,970 out of 28,665 foster children in private homes under the age of 15 are Indigenous.

Chief Bull said that within his lifetime, he has seen that things are changing for the better; small improvements are being made and reconciliation is happening.

He noted, “We have a rich history, and I believe reconciliation cannot be watched on videos or read. You have to be involved and be a part of it in ceremonies and discussions.”

Chief Bull said the Pope’s visit will open old wounds for the survivors and families who had very negative experiences in residential schools, but some will find “closure.”

And he noted that this is “one step forward in reparation.”

Chief Vernon Saddleback said that when he started his healing journey, he looked at his parents, who attended residential schools and died of alcoholism.

The Samson Cree Nation chief said that to heal, he had to go back and revisit residential schools and what they meant for his parents.

“Once I understood what my parents went through at residential schools, I was able to understand the impact it had on me and my family,” he said.

“I think that’s why the Pope needs to come and apologize on First Nation soil.

“Reconciliation begins with the truth and an apology. I’m excited that Pope Francis is coming because of the opportunity that will be available for all First Nations people of Canada, especially my people in Samson.

“I’m looking forward to his visit, and I know my Elders who were part of residential school survivors are mostly excited about it as well.”

“Welcome, Pope Francis,” said Chief Saddleback.

Chase McDougall-Rabbit, Montana First Nation Councillor and nephew of former Chief Carl Rabbit, said, “We acknowledge the Pope’s desire to come to our lands and apologize to First Nations, Metis and Inuit survivors and their families for the church’s role in the Canadian residential school system.”

“This is a significant moment in our history; it is also a delicate time, as Indigenous people we begin a long and difficult road of healing and hope for the future,” he added.

“Today, there is an opportunity to walk together in truth and reconciliation. It is about establishing and maintaining a mutual and respectful relationship; it is about coming to understand the truth of what happened under residential schools, its structure, and the traumas many experienced. It is about acknowledging those truths.”

An itinerary for the Pope’s trip starts in Edmonton on July 24 and ends in Iqaluit on July 29.

On Monday, July 25, Pope Francis will join IRS survivors from across the country in a formal program at the site of the former Ermineskin Residential School in Ermineskin Cree Nation.

According to the Maskwacis Education Commission School, the residential school was one of Canada’s largest that operated from 1895 to 1975.

The Pope will then attend mass at the reopening of Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples in downtown Edmonton.

On July 26, the Pope will attend an open air mass at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium. The first block of 16,000 free tickets were released on June 6 and a second block will be released on July 11. Click here for ticket information.

He will then travel to Lac Ste. Anne for the first night of the annual Lac Ste. Anne Pilgramage.

Chevi Rabbit, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Alberta Native News

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