Saskatchewan residential school survivors react to Pope Francis’s apology

Click to play video: 'Saskatchewan residential school survivors react to Pope Francis’s apology' Saskatchewan residential school survivors react to Pope Francis’s apology
Residential school survivors in Saskatchewan say the Pope's apology is stirring up far more than a feeling of closure. Connor O'Donovan has more on what they think the apology means for reconciliation and questions it leaves unanswered – Apr 1, 2022

WARNING: This story contains content that may be disturbing to some readers. Discretion is advised.

Bevann Fox remembers her face being rubbed into milk that she accidentally spilled on the floor when she was seven years old.

“You need to go the chapel, you need to pray for spilling that milk,” are the words Fox remembers hearing a nun telling her while she was a student at the Lebret Industrial School. “I was in fear (and) traumatized. That night, I was sent to see the priest. And you know what happened from there.”

Fox says that night, she was molested. It’s a painful memory that floods her eyes with tears as she recalls a painful childhood in the residential school.

Read more: Pope Francis apologizes for residential schools at Vatican — ‘I ask for God’s forgiveness’

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As forms of punishment, Fox endured sexual, physical, emotional and spiritual abuses during her time at the residential school. At times, she was starved and left out of meals, and she was put into a locker as the school’s form of timeout.

It’s memories like these that are constant reminders of her past that she was too young to understand.

“I was only seven years old,” Fox said in a shaky voice.

When she heard Indigenous delegates from Canada were heading out to the Vatican to meet with the Pope, she decided to remove herself from social media. But the morning of April 1, Fox turned to her Twitter account and read the news of Pope Francis apologizing.

“I still have mixed feelings about it,” she said. “In my own opinion, he should have came here (to Canada) to apologize.”

Pope Francis addressed the Indigenous delegation from Canada along with residential school survivors, elders, knowledge keepers, youth and leaders to apologize.

Read more: ‘What drove me is the children’ — Longest-serving chief in Canada presses Pope for justice

“All this made me feel two things very strongly: indignation and shame,” the Pope said. “All these things are contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ. For the deplorable conduct of these members of the Catholic Church, I ask for God’s forgiveness and I want to say to you with all my heart, I am very sorry.”

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After hearing the apology, Marieval Indian Residential School survivor Barry Kennedy said “it was a little too late.”

“I was shocked and it confused me,” said Kennedy. “I’m lost for words.… Why did the apology take so long? It’s long overdue.”

Kennedy was also a victim of various forms of abuse at residential school. He said the trauma that he endured has become a a big part of his life, which makes it hard for him to accept the Pope’s apology.

“Do I accept the apology? The answer is no,” he said. “Will I accept the apology when he comes to Canada? The answer is no. How do you forgive for something like this?”

The former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Murray Sinclair issued a statement saying the apology is an important moment for Indigenous Peoples and that it is long past time that the church begins to take responsibility for its role in the residential school system.

Click to play video: 'Pope apologizes publicly for harm caused in Canadian residential schools' Pope apologizes publicly for harm caused in Canadian residential schools
Pope apologizes publicly for harm caused in Canadian residential schools – Apr 1, 2022

“While the apology is an important milestone, there is still much work to do. On the strength of this historic acknowledgement, the Church must push forward to address deniers within their congregations,” stated Sinclair.

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“The stories of residential school Survivors belong in Church services and Sunday schools. It was a great injustice that Catholics – and all people – must learn from. When the Pope comes to Canada this summer, to visit our territories, all Survivors can finally hear this apology for themselves.”

The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419) is available 24 hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience.

— with files from Elizabeth McSheffrey

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