Mi'kmaw survivor of N.S. residential school heads west to see the Pope

·2 min read
There are now commemorative plaques at the site of the only residential school in the Maritimes.  (Stephanie Blanchet/CBC - image credit)
There are now commemorative plaques at the site of the only residential school in the Maritimes. (Stephanie Blanchet/CBC - image credit)

Doreen Bernard was just four years old when she was required to attend the Shubenacadie Indian Residential School in Nova Scotia. Bernard says many members of her family suffered at the school, which was open from 1930 to 1967.

Today, she is a Sipekne'katik First Nation community elder and will be among the residential schools survivors gathering in Edmonton for the Pope's visit to Canada.

Bernard will be joining other members of the National Advisory Committee on Residential Schools Missing Children and Unmarked Burials at Maskwacis, Alta., to hear Pope Francis' apology as part of his six-day "penitential" trip aimed at Indigenous reconciliation.

Bernard said there's a chance she might be able to meet the Pope when he is speaking to smaller audiences.

Stephanie Blanchet/CBC
Stephanie Blanchet/CBC

She notes that one of the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was an apology from the Roman Catholic Church to residential school survivors on Indigenous land.

"It has to go a little bit further than that, a lot further than that," Bernard said. "We need action."

An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend residential schools in Canada, where neglect and physical and sexual abuse were rampant. More than 60 per cent of the schools were run by the Roman Catholic Church.

Bernard, who is not Catholic, said when the Pope apologized at the Vatican in April he made it sound like he was apologizing for the actions of a few people within the Catholic Church.

According to Bernard, the wrongs are systemic and generational and the church has been engaged in a cover-up.

Bernard says the Catholic Church has the land and resources around the world to pay for what it has done, and it also has the power to stop it from ever happening again.

Stephanie Blanchet/CBC
Stephanie Blanchet/CBC

Bernard helped compose the text on commemorative plaques at the former site of the Shubenacadie Indian Residential School. She says the Mi'kmaw children who attended the school suffered cultural genocide, malnutrition, child labour and abuse, among other things.

"Even before the residential schools, we were already inheriting that ancestral memory and ancestral pain from what our ancestors had gone through since colonization."

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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