Karen Wildcat spent three-years at the Ermineskin residential school. She said she didn’t realize that it was a bad experience until hearing other experiences at a Truth and Reconciliation Commission event in Edmonton.
“All the people there telling their stories and brought out candles for all the birthdays not celebrated. I was triggered from that.”
Wildcat thought about how she was taken away from her family, even through they were nearby — in some cases in the same building.
“My two younger brothers were on the other side of the residential school sleeping area… it was split in two. I never realized… they were there, and we were just like a hallway away.”
“That was one of my main triggers and my main healing that I needed to do… Just being robbed of that family life,” Wildcat said.
Wildcat struggled for years, and about 30 years ago she turned to the catholic church to help work towards healing.
“I didn’t allow the creator into my life until I was 29-years-old. I had a grudge on him since I was young.”
“I gave myself a choice, either I become an alcoholic or I follow you, because I had two daughters to think about,” she said.
The papal visit is surfacing a lot of emotions. With an expected apology from Pope Francis for the church’s role in residential schools, it’s another step forward for Wildcat.
“It’s a really big thing for our children and grandchildren — we don’t want them to carry that anger.”
“This is a time of healing and reconciliation. We have the opportunity right now to be open to that and to start that healing journey, if you haven’t started already,” Wildcat said.
15,000 people are expected to be in Maskwacis July 25th for the Pope’s visit. To help survivors who are struggling ahead of the day, support workers are holding a listen circle for survivors to share. Members of the local catholic church are also invited to listen.
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The day the pope is in the community, 150 support workers will be on site to help anyone who is struggling.
“We are treating it as a triggering event. We don’t always know how people are going to respond and the emotions can be strong, and we just want to support them in the most respectful way as possible,” Maskwacis Counselling & Support Services Peyasu Wuttunee said.
“Just being attentive to people’s needs and if they need mental health supports or emotional supports we will be providing that.”
Bruce Cutknife is a day school survivor. He remembers children being punished harshly.
“We were in grade one, and it was called baby class and I used to wonder for years why they called it that,” Cutknife said.
“There I realized it was because children were always crying in the class.”
“It was brutal… getting slapping in the face, hair pull, poke or getting beat,” Cutknife said.
He remembers a girl being beat with a yard stick. He said the teacher broke the stick in half while hitting her, and took both halves of the yard stick and continued hitting her.
“The idea that the church has somehow beaten in to you unless you are Christian and civilized you are less than human.”
Cutknife doesn’t plan to go see the Pope, but he hopes the apology is sincere.
“Hopefully it’s sincere and it’s heartfelt. It means a lot to come in and issue the apology because for a lot of our people that’s what they want because of the damage that was inflicted upon them,” Cutknife said.
“It matters what happens after this apology is rendered and how reconciliation will continue.”
Survivors of the residential school system can get support through Canada’s Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program 24-7 crisis line by calling 1-866-925-4419.