N.B. residential school survivor on way to hear Pope's apology isn't sure it will help

·3 min read
Mirtle Kennedy survived sexual abuse as a child while at Shubenacadie Indian Residential School in Nova Scotia. (Ed Hunter/CBC - image credit)
Mirtle Kennedy survived sexual abuse as a child while at Shubenacadie Indian Residential School in Nova Scotia. (Ed Hunter/CBC - image credit)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

Mirtle Kennedy isn't sure an apology from the Pope will bring closure for what happened to her as a child at Shubenacadie Residential School.

"How they treated people was bad," Kennedy said Wednesday as she prepared to travel to Quebec City to hear the Pope during his tour aimed at reconciliation with residential school survivors.

"I saw it all, and what a Catholic priest done to me, I couldn't hack it. … That priest raped, raped me and dragged me in a hallway."

The 85-year-old Mi'kmaw woman was born in Saint John and, after being separated from her mother as a child, was sent to the notorious residential school in Nova Scotia. She now lives in Sitansisk Wolastoqiyik First Nation in Fredericton.

Ed Hunter/CBC
Ed Hunter/CBC

On Wednesday, she and six other residential school survivors boarded a bus in Sitansisk en route to Quebec City to hear the Pope apologize for the abuse she and thousands of other girls and boys suffered at residential schools across Canada.

Kennedy said she was going because she wanted to personally hear the Pope's apology but couldn't say for sure whether it will bring any comfort to her.

"Maybe I'll feel good if I hear something," she said.

"I don't know if … I can forgive the Catholic Church for what they done to me."

The bus had already picked up survivors from Mi'kmaw communities in northeastern New Brunswick and was to pick up more from other Wolastoqey communities later in the day.

Francis, who was to arrive in Quebec City on Wednesday afternoon, began his week-long "pilgrimage of penance" on Monday in Alberta.

He apologized "for the evil committed" by members of the Catholic Church, who ran many of the residential schools across Canada.

He's slated to meet with Governor General Mary Simon and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the Citadel of Quebec on  Wednesday, then hold a mass at the Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré Basilica at 10 a.m. Thursday.

Supporting the survivors

Ann Paul also boarded the bus at Sitansisk on Wednesday morning and will serve as a ceremonial drummer to help provide strength and comfort for the elders.

"The apology in itself, it's a good gesture but where do we go from here? What is going to happen from here on?" she asked.

Ed Hunter/CBC
Ed Hunter/CBC

Paul said she has two uncles who survived residential school, and she saw the long-term impacts it had on them, with both "hiding" their pain using alcohol.

"One uncle died and he … took his stories to his grave," she said.

"And my other uncle, he wrote a book … and, you know, it goes along with all the other stories that you've heard."

Hopes for further reconciliation

Sitansisk First Nation Chief Allan Polchies helped co-ordinate the group that left from his community, and said he hoped the Pope's tour helps further reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

"This service and the visit of the pope, you know, may not bring closure to some, but at least it's going to leave peace," he said.

Ed Hunter/CBC
Ed Hunter/CBC

"And moving forward in the spirit of reconciliation, we have to ensure that Canada knows what has happened to the residential school survivors, the dark history of our Canadian history."

Polchies, who is part of the group, said the plan is to attend the Thursday morning mass in Quebec City.

A live-streamed viewing of it will be held at the marquee of the Maqiyahtimok Centre in Sitansisk First Nation, he said.

Polchies said the group will return to New Brunswick on Friday night.

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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