Pope’s apology just a first step say Saskatchewan Indigenous leaders

Click to play video: 'Saskatchewan residential school survivors react to Pope Francis’s apology'
Saskatchewan residential school survivors react to Pope Francis’s apology
Bevann Fox was seven years old when she first attended residential school in Lebret, Sask. Hearing the Pope's apology made her revisit painful memories sketched into her mind – Apr 1, 2022

Indigenous leaders in Saskatchewan say Pope Francis’ apology to residential school survivors is welcomed but more work still needs to be done on the path to reconciliation.

Pope Francis apologized to residential school survivors on Friday, saying he was sorry for the serious and lasting harm caused by some clergy members who operated the church-and state-sponsored residential school system.

Métis-Nation Saskatchewan (MN-S) vice-president Michelle LeClair said the Pope’s apology was the first step to accountability, justice and healing.

“We need the Pope to acknowledge the Church’s role in residential schools for any apology to translate into true and meaningful reconciliation,” LeClair said.

“In Saskatchewan, that process may begin when the Church, the federal and provincial governments formally acknowledge their roles in the Île-à-la-Crosse boarding school before the survivors are gone.”

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Île-à-la-Crosse boarding school operated from the 1880s until the mid-1970s when it was closed.

In 2019, MN-S signed an agreement with the federal government to lay out a process to come to a fair resolution for survivors and families who were left out of a compensation agreement negotiated in the 1990s.

“It is imperative that this process is finalized before more survivors are lost,” LeClair said.

“For the MN-S, the trip to the Vatican represented a chance for the world to learn the history of residential schools from the Métis perspective, which has largely been ignored or forgotten,” MN-S said in a release.

MN-S added that historic compensation agreements have often left out Métis survivors and families.

“There are many Métis who have lost our distinct ways, principles, identity, culture, values and language. There has been a lot of broken families. An apology has to have substance and hopefully support a legacy for our future generations,” MN-S president Glen McCallum said.

Click to play video: 'Reflecting on the Pope’s historic residential school apology'
Reflecting on the Pope’s historic residential school apology

McCallum added Pope Francis’s apology “must be followed by tangible and real action for our citizens.”

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Elders Emilien Janvier and Antoinette Lafleur both represented MN-S and Saskatchewan Métis survivors on the Vatican trip.

Janvier and Lafleur are both survivors of Île-à-la-Crosse boarding school and recounted their experiences to Pope Francis during a private audience.

Janvier delivered a prayer in his native Dene language.

Lafleur, who MN-S says has long been an advocate for survivors and the recognition of student’s experiences at Île-à-la-Crosse boarding school, hopes this trip will provide closure.

“Young people I meet — they don’t know, they weren’t there — but they’re still hurting. It’s being passed down. It’s like a hatred being passed down from generation to generation,” Lafleur said in the release.

In a statement, Saskatoon Tribal Chief Mark Arcand said Friday was “a historic day for all Indigenous people across Turtle Island.”

On behalf of the STC and its member nations, Arcand thanked survivors who spoke and had the courage to tell their stories.

“We welcome and support (Friday’s) apology from Pope Francis to residential school survivors and their families as a positive step in the right direction towards reconciliation,” Arcand said.

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Arcand said the groups also look forward to the Pope’s visit to Canada, a promise the Pope made on Friday to fulfill the TRC Call to Action #58.

“We thank the survivors for their courage and honesty in making this happen for the benefits of their families and communities,” Arcand said.

The Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC), representing over 44,000 people, 12 First Nations, and 28 northern communities, said they welcome the apology.

“This long-awaited apology acknowledges the harm caused by the residential schools and will help heal the intergenerational trauma caused by them,” PAGC grand chief Brian Hardlotte said in a release.

“By taking responsibility for the harm inflicted upon generations of our people, this apology marks the first step toward healing and reconciliation, and will be vital in helping to restore and rebuild trusting relationships with our members,” Hardlotte said in a release.

Though, Hardlotte said he is joining calls for the church to disavow papal bulls issued in 1442 and 1445 “that justified the colonization of lands they had declared terra nullius, as belonging to no one.”

With a visit from the Pope to Canada expected, PAGC leadership recommended a visit to the Shrine of St. Anne, when they say hungers of PAGC community members gather every July for their annual pilgrimage.

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— with files from Global News’ Elizabeth McSheffrey and David Giles

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