Treaty 6 chiefs, residential school survivors call for mental health resources following papal visit

·2 min read
A panel of First Nations chiefs and residential school survivors spoke to media Thursday. Elder Gordon Burnstick from Alexander First Nation, Rod Alexis from Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation, Chief Tony Alexis from Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation, Treaty 6 First Nations Grand Chief George Arcand Jr., Ermineskin Cree Nation Chief Randy Ermineskin, Louis Bull Tribe Chief Desmond Bull and Alexander First Nation elder Victoria Arcand spoke at the event.  (Jamie McCannel/CBC - image credit)
A panel of First Nations chiefs and residential school survivors spoke to media Thursday. Elder Gordon Burnstick from Alexander First Nation, Rod Alexis from Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation, Chief Tony Alexis from Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation, Treaty 6 First Nations Grand Chief George Arcand Jr., Ermineskin Cree Nation Chief Randy Ermineskin, Louis Bull Tribe Chief Desmond Bull and Alexander First Nation elder Victoria Arcand spoke at the event. (Jamie McCannel/CBC - image credit)

Several residential school survivors and First Nations chiefs from the Edmonton region say access to mental health resources will be crucial for the upcoming visit from Pope Francis.

These are complicated emotions rippling through Indigenous communities in the Edmonton region where Pope Francis is expected to deliver an apology for the Catholic Church's role in Canada's residential schools.

Chief Randy Ermineskin of Ermineskin Cree Nation says the visit will possibly trigger past traumas.

"Trauma is going to be a hard thing for many people and there are cycles that people go through, including ourselves as leaders and how we are responding to our [trauma] after this event occurs," said Ermineskin.

"We don't want to hurt because that's what happened to the survivors because they didn't know how to cope."

Ermineskin believes although some are looking forward to the visit, many are unprepared for the emotions and lasting impacts the event may have on them.

Jamie McCannel/CBC
Jamie McCannel/CBC

Grand Chief George Arcand Jr. of the Confederacy of Treaty 6 First Nations and Chief of Alexander First Nation said he is concerned not enough is being done to protect survivors.

"The chiefs have been meeting with Health Canada, Indian Affairs, and the papal staff to talk about a partnership," he said. "We have not gotten anywhere, nobody's committed, and we've all agreed to gather because we're going to need the support after the visit."

Arcand says although he is hopeful officials will make mental health support services accessible, he worries about the lack of urgency.

"Sometimes I believe we are too forgiving. We accept sometimes because that's the way we've been brought up. We accept forgiveness… But there needs to be justice."

Pope Francis will be in Canada from July 24 to 29.

On Monday, the Pope will visit the former site of the Ermineskin Residential School in Maskwacis, about 100 kilometres south of Edmonton.

The community is the location of four First Nations: Ermineskin Cree Nation, Samson Cree Nation, Louis Bull Tribe and the Montana First Nation.

Chief Vernon Saddleback welcomes the Pope to the community and said his apology will be important for many in Samson Cree Nation.

"I know for a lot of my elders in my community who've gone to residential school, and I myself I was a day scholar student until Grade 4, but I know a lot of elders have gone through it and I know it's really important to them," he said.

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.

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