Feelings of apprehension and excitement are rippling through Indigenous communities ahead of the Pope’s visit to Canada later this month and his impending apology to residential school survivors on home soil.
The Canadian government has announced more than $30 million for Indigenous communities and organizations, earmarked to cover the cost of travel for residential school survivors during the pontiff’s visit July 24-29. The money can also be used for cultural events and ceremonies to mark the Pope’s visit.
Pope Francis is expected to expand on an apology he delivered at the Vatican in spring for the abuse that occurred at Roman Catholic-run residential schools in a bid to facilitate reconciliation and healing between the Church and First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.
Debbie Huntinghawk, co-ordinator for ’60s Scoop programming at the Brandon Friendship Centre, said she has had people ask her where they can find support and funding to travel to see the Pope.
"There’s probably a busload that would like to go from Brandon."
People have been asking their local bands for funding, but most cannot afford to cover such travel expenses, Huntinghawk said.
Manitoba Métis Federation vice-president Leah LaPlante said while First Nations people were most affected by residential schools, some Métis people also attended them. From what she’s hearing, there’s a lot of excitement in the Métis community right now about the Pope’s visit.
"We have some elders going to Edmonton with the hopes of just being within sight of the Pope, because the Catholic Church was the way we were raised as Métis, and they’re really looking forward to the trip."
Joseph Maud, a resident of Dauphin, attended Pine Creek Indian Residential School from 1965-69. He plans on travelling to Edmonton to hear what Pope Francis has to say, in honour of his siblings; eight of nine of them attended the school, and three have died.
To Maud, who said he was mistreated by the nuns at the school, it’s important for him to witness what the pontiff says during his visit.
"It has to be sincere … he represents the entire Catholic Church, so it’s important for me personally to hear his apology."
Maud attended former prime minister Stephen Harper’s apology in Ottawa in 2009, but said he was disappointed that the promises made then were not kept.
"A lot more has to be done by the Church, by the government and by the general population."
The lack of reconciliation, and the fact that Indigenous people still face discrimination and racism in 2022, is a grim reflection of the country, Maud said.
"It’s really, really upsetting that nothing has been done. It’s really, really shameful."
Linda Clearsky, a resolution support worker from Treaty 2 and Treaty 4 territory in Brandon, said she will be travelling to Edmonton to support residential school survivors from her community. She’s worried that the funding announcement came too late to truly be of use to many people.
"It’s short notice," she said.
Clearsky’s mother and grandmother were both survivors of residential schools, and she said other survivors have a lot of mixed feelings about Pope Francis’ visit.
"People are saying, ‘What’s sorry going to do? How is an apology going to fix what happened to me?’"
Residential school survivors are encouraged to contact their local governments to arrange travel for the Pope’s visit.
Submitted, Brandon Sun