Yukon First Nations have mixed feelings about papal visit

·3 min read
Jessie Dawson, a Kwanlin Dun First Nation councillor and residential school survivor, says she's going to Edmonton because she wants to 'find some closure to the wrongs that were done to myself.' (Kiyoshi McGuire/CBC - image credit)
Jessie Dawson, a Kwanlin Dun First Nation councillor and residential school survivor, says she's going to Edmonton because she wants to 'find some closure to the wrongs that were done to myself.' (Kiyoshi McGuire/CBC - image credit)

Residential school survivors in the Yukon have mixed feelings about the pope's visit to Canada next week.

While a large number of residential school survivors from the Yukon will be making the trip to Edmonton this weekend to see the papal apology, many others aren't interested in attending.

Jessie Dawson, a Kwanlin Dün First Nation councillor and residential school survivor, flew to Edmonton on Friday. She says she's feeling anxious ahead of the visit, but is hopeful it can bring closure and healing.

"For me personally, I want to go and possibly find some closure to the wrongs that were done to myself and two of my siblings in the past," said Dawson.

"But also I want to go to support my citizens, the elders in my community, and the other residential school survivors that are going."

Pope Francis is landing in Canada on Sunday for what he has called a "pilgrimage of penance." He is set to travel to Alberta, Quebec and Iqaluit and has plans to hold masses and meet with First Nations groups. This past April the pope made an apology in Rome for the "deplorable" conduct of some members of the Church, but he will now deliver an apology on Canadian soil.

Dawson said she's "not sure" what the pope can say to help her personally, but she hopes he expands on the apology he delivered in Rome earlier this year.

"I just want to be whole again, to enjoy the remainder of my life," said Dawson.

"We need to be whole again. We need to learn how to love ourselves. We need to learn how to let go of the pain that has happened, and to trust."

Dawson estimates around 45 Kwanlin Dün citizens are traveling to Edmonton over the weekend.

Alyce Johnson is one of five Kluane First Nations citizens traveling from Burwash Landing, Yukon, to Edmonton on Monday. Similarly to Dawson, she says the trip is "part of [her] healing journey."

"It's important for the pope to face the individuals, look into the eyes of the individuals that have had those experiences," she said.

Johnson, who attended Lower Post residential school as a child, said she wants more than an apology; she wants action.

"You can speak words," she said. "However, your actions mean more when you support the communities and the First Nations who have suffered as a result of decisions that were made external to who we are."

Chief Stephen Charlie of the Liard First Nation, on the other hand, has no interest in traveling to see the pope. He's also a residential school survivor.

Philippe Morin/CBC
Philippe Morin/CBC

"I've done my own healing journey," he said. "I don't require to hear an apology. For myself, I think I'm well beyond that."

But Charlie recognizes that many people do want to attend for their own healing.

"I think any time leaders like this take responsibility and apologize for people that they've hurt, I think that is greatly appreciated by a lot of people," he said.

He says that over 60 Liard First Nation citizens have applied for travel assistance to go to Edmonton. The funding is part of $35 million the federal government announced last week to support Indigenous communities during the pope's visit.

Support is available for anyone affected by residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.

The Indian Residential School Survivors Society (IRSSS) can be contacted toll-free at 1-800-721-0066.

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.

Yukon's Committee on Abuse in Residential Schools (CAIRS) has also been providing support for many years: 867-667-2247.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting