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‘It’s not for me’: Papal visit brings no comfort to some residential school survivors

Click to play video: 'Pope Francis’ visit stirs complex feelings among residential school survivors' Pope Francis’ visit stirs complex feelings among residential school survivors
WATCH: Pope Francis has begun his six-day visit to apologize for Indigenous residential schools on Canadian soil. Global's Heather Yourex-West spoke with a residential school survivor who said the pope’s visit will not be a healing experience for him – Jul 24, 2022

On his YouTube channel,  Perry Omeasoo can often be found dancing.

The Samson Cree First Nation man enters his bright kitchen bobbing along to a classic rock song as he prepares to demonstrate how to cook a tasty-looking dinner dish.

“How you doing,” he says brightly to the camera, and it’s difficult to watch the short segments without breaking into a smile.

On camera, Omeasoo seems to radiate joy.

“I have a good life,” says the father of three from his home in Squamish, B.C.  “But I tell people, I’m going to carry this darkness of being a residential school survivor until the day I die.

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Residential school survivor, Perry Omeasoo (second from left) pictured as a young boy while attending the Ermineskin Indian residential school in Alberta. Perry Omeasoo

Omeasoo was five years old when he was taken from his family to attend the Ermineskin Indian Residential School in central Alberta’s Maskwacis community.

The institution, operated by the Roman Catholic Church, was one of the largest of its kind in Canada and was open for more than 80 years.

Read more: People travelling great distance to see Pope Francis amid Canada trip

Click to play video: 'Pope Francis meets with Indigenous leaders, residential school survivors in Canada' Pope Francis meets with Indigenous leaders, residential school survivors in Canada
Pope Francis meets with Indigenous leaders, residential school survivors in Canada – Jul 24, 2022

“I had a good spiritual kind of upbringing and then they took me away from that and put me into Indian residential school and what a change. What a difficult and ugly change,” Omeasoo recalls.

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“I didn’t know how to speak any English until I got there and my cousin said, ‘Don’t get caught speaking Cree or you’re going to get hit.’

More than five decades later, Omeasoo is still trying to heal from this trauma. He works as a mental health counsellor for Vancouver Coastal Health and often turns to his co-workers to help him work through what he is feeling day to day.

“I’ve been seeing people, I pray and I smudge and I do spiritual work,” he says. “When they found 215 graves in Kamloops, that’s where it all started for me.

“It’s been a difficult process this last year and a half for me, I tell you. I would weep for days.”

Omeasoo hopes that the Pope’s visit and his planned apology on Indigenous lands come as a comfort to some and can provide healing for those who believe in the Catholic faith, but he says the papal visit will bring no solace to him.

“That’s not for me if I can say that,” he says.  “The whole thing is not for me.”

Click to play video: 'Pope Francis arrives in Canada for trip focused on Indigenous reconciliation' Pope Francis arrives in Canada for trip focused on Indigenous reconciliation
Pope Francis arrives in Canada for trip focused on Indigenous reconciliation – Jul 24, 2022

Paving the road through Maskwacis was prioritized in anticipation of the Pope’s visit, but Omeasoo wonders why that wasn’t done for the community before.

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He says the papal apology alone won’t fix the inequities Indigenous people continue to face within Canadian institutions, from health care and child welfare to justice and housing.

“I hope the Pope can have a cup of tap water while he’s there and drink that,” he says.

Read more: Residential school survivors preparing for papal visit in Edmonton

The visit will put the truth of Canada’s residential school system in an international spotlight once again, highlighting not only the pain of the past but the present-day injustices, too.

Acknowledging and illuminating these issues is what gives Omeasoo hope. He’d like to see every Canadian child learn the truth about the residential school system in school.

“I think when my sons have children and they’re men, they’re going to be in such a better place,” he smiles.

“They’ll be able to walk with their heads up and say they’re Indigenous.”

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Quebec Indigenous leaders concerned elders’ needs aren’t being considered for Papal visit – Jul 21, 2022

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