The events of the papal visit to Canada have been triggering for many First Nations peoples and a powerful moment during Monday’s apology in central Alberta stands out.
An anguished rendering of a song similar to Canada’s national anthem was sung in Cree by SiPihKo, an Indigenous woman, as tears streamed down her face.
It marked one of several emotional moments in the first leg of Pope Francis’ apology tour in Canada on Monday.
It followed the pope’s apology and was not part of the official program.
Si Pih Ko’s song is being shared and resonating with people around the world — but on Tuesday, she said it is being mistaken for the wrong tune.
“It wasn’t O Canada. It’s our village in our language of the Four Winds,” SiPihKo said to Global News at the Lac Ste. Anne pilgrimage.
She said she had sung it before when Prince Charles was visiting, and that’s when she realized it went with the tune of the national anthem.
“For them to say it’s O Canada — I said no, it’s O Canada translated for their anthem. It’s an older dialect of the language of the Four Winds.”
After finishing singing, she spoke what she said was the “law of these lands” to Pope Francis.
“‘You are hereby served the spoken law, we the daughters of the great spirit and our tribal sovereign members can not be forced into law or treaty that is not the great law. We have appointed chiefs on our territories, govern yourselves accordingly,’ and then I turned my back on him and said ‘hiy hiy’ and I shook it off.”
SiPihKo said she was raised away from her family, had Catholicism forced upon her, and on Monday expressed the pain of those experiences through her impromptu song.
“Everyone that was hurting through these residential schools, everybody that shared their stories with me, that’s who I shook my fringes to free them from all the pain. That’s what I felt.”
She said it pained her to see First Nations leaders on the stage with Pope Francis in Maskwacis.
On Tuesday, Pope Francis spoke in three First Nations languages at the sacred pilgrimage site of Lac Ste. Anne.
During a church service, Francis wore a red Metis sash around his neck and said hello in Nakota, Cree and Blackfoot.
It came hours after his public mass in Edmonton was called a missed opportunity for not including Indigenous culture or traditions.
The Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program has a hotline to help residential school survivors and their relatives suffering trauma invoked by the recall of past abuse. The number is 1-866-925-4419.