Warning: Some of the details in this story may be disturbing to some readers. Discretion is advised.
In one week Pope Francis will be in Quebec City as part of his trip to Canada to apologize to Indigenous Peoples for abuses they suffered at the hands of the Catholic Church.
Though thousands of spaces have been reserved for residential school survivors who want to meet the pontif, many who were abused say they have no interest in seeing him.
“The Pope saying ‘I’m sorry’ does not erase what was done to me, the pain and suffering by being in schools like that,” said Ruth Loft, a residential school survivor who lives in the Mohawk community of Kahnawá:ke on Montreal’s south shore.
Her memories of her time at residential school are often too hard to bear.
At age five the Miꞌkmaq elder was taken from her parents’ Nova Scotia home at Sipekne’katik First Nation, also known as Indian Brook, and forced to live at the former Shubenacadie Indian Residential School until she was 12.
Relief would come every spring when she saw dandelions blooming and she was sent home for the summer.
“That was some of the symbols, signs I saw that made me think ‘oh I’ll be going home pretty soon,'” she told Global News of the flowers.
Going home meant a respite from the abuse she endured at the institution. Night and day.
“Beatings is all I knew,” she explained. “Religion and beatings.”
Beatings, she said, for the simplest things – even for speaking her Miꞌkmaq language.
Loft pointed out that her culture was stripped from her and she was treated like less than human.
“They even gave me a number,” she stressed. “I was a number in there. My number was seven. I can’t remember if they called me by my name or my number.”
These are the reasons she will not be going to see the Pope, who’s coming to Canada following his apology at the Vatican in the spring, for the grave and lasting harm caused by Catholic school staff.
Other residents in Kahnawá:ke, like Tekarontake of the Wolf Clan who went to Indian Day School, argues that an apology doesn’t go far enough.
“What we want from him, we want a confession,” he insisted, an admission of all the harm the church caused.
“Show me something,” Kwe’ti:ios of the Bear Clan told Global News. Her mother also attended Indian day school. “Show me what you’re going to do and that’s a step. (An apology) is not a step.”
Loft believes a genuine apology would help but agrees more – much more – is needed.
She still wears a crucifix around her neck but refuses to set foot inside a church.
“I don’t know,” she laughed when asked about the religious symbol. “It gives me comfort. Probably because the residential school still has an effect on me.”
Loft says said she believes in the Creator and prays that the church will do something meaningful.
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.