Marie Haviland from the Muskowekwan First Nation attended the Muscowequan Indian Residential School in 1952. She remembers her parents dropping her off at the residential school when she was seven years old. It was a time that her life changed. She no longer had access to her Indigenous teachings, her language and living off the land.
The memories of being a student at the Muscowequan Indian Residential School reopened old wounds as Haviland weeps as she recalls her time at a place that robbed her of a childhood.
“What happened to us, we lost that core connection to our family,” she said. “That loss of that parents’ love, you can’t replace that with nuns and priests who were so rigid and disciplined with us.”
On Monday, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) held a media conference in Muskowekwan First Nation where it called on the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) to arrange for the July papal visit to include the Muscowequan Indian Residential School.
However, the idea of having a proposed papal visit to Muskokwekwan First Nation, where the last standing residential school in Saskatchewan is, doesn’t sit too well with Haviland.
“It doesn’t make sense to me. (There’s) too much loss, too many children gone (and) families broken up,” she said. “All the things we needed growing up, we didn’t have that … so I don’t think an apology for me would be any good.”
In 2021, 35 unmarked graves were discovered on the site of the residential school. The Pope is expected to visit Canada this summer, which was announced when Indigenous delegates from Canada were in Rome from March 28 to April 1.
During their visit to the Vatican, the Pope also delivered an apology for the harm caused by the Catholic Church in the residential schools. It was a moment where a Lebret residential school survivor and the Saskatchewan delegate believed the Pope was “very sincere” during their visit.
“The visit to the Vatican to meet with the Holy Father was very meaningful to the delegates who shared the hearts and the truths of the Indigenous people who were either harmed, maimed or even killed by the practices of the Catholic church,” Marie-Anne Day Walker-Pelletier stated in a media release.
“Now, we are receiving word that the Holy Father is not attending Saskatchewan and instead is scheduling on visiting places of pilgrimages that current Indigenous Catholics attend. I must question whether this papal visit is instead a reward for those Indigenous people who still practice the faith rather than a sign of reconciliation or reparations the Catholic church must bring to the Indigenous peoples.”
FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron stated the Pope owes every survivor, family and community affected by the Catholic-operated Indian residential schools an apology “on our own Treaty territory.”
“The Pope needs to visit one of our First Nations Saskatchewan, especially one where the site of the abuse still stands,” stated Cameron. “Pope Francis and the Church must bear witness to the devastation brought on by the Church in our Treaty territory.”
Muscowequan Indian Residential School survivor Elaine Severight will welcome the Pope and his apology if he decides to stop in her home community this summer.
“It’s a long time coming (and) we need to put closure to what happened to us,” said Severight. “To hear him say ‘I’m sorry’ and to hear what he can offer towards my healing … in my heart, I hope that our members will see it and take it upon themselves to start healing.”
Details on the dates and exact visit locations are not confirmed yet but Pope Francis could be making stops in Alberta and Quebec during his visit to Canada, Global News learned on April 15.
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.