Residential school survivors are reflecting on the papal apology, as Pope Francis returns to Rome following his Canadian visit.
For many it’s bringing a wide-range of emotions.
“It was an admittance of the abuses that occurred in our country. It’s an admittance and it’s a step towards reconciliation… Apologizing is the first step towards reconciliation in my eyes,” said Jennifer Wood, a third generation residential school survivor who attended the Portage Indian Residential School. Wood travelled to Edmonton last week for the papal apology.
“For me to be there, bearing witness and hearing that, I believe it’s going to be a game changer in Canada, for all other churches in Canada, for governments in Canada, for corporations in Canada, and social groups and social agencies,” Wood said.
“It is a start of a new beginning, it’s a start of a new chapter. It’s paving a way toward people to feel valued, for people to feel understood, to open up our trust and take down our barriers. It’s going to create a path that we can come together and start to understand ourselves and what has happened to us and what needs to be done to heal ourselves.”
But Wood noted emotions were wide-ranging for many survivors, with feelings of anger, sadness, anxiety, calmness, and relief. She hopes the work won’t stop now that the Pope has returned to Rome.
“I believe that this is the start in the right direction of the Pope coming to Canada. The admittance of the abuses in Canada will hopefully influence other churches in Canada that might look at providing monetary funding towards housing, addiction, suicide, unemployment,” Wood said, adding that she hopes this will be a pivotal moment for all Canadians.
“We don’t have to continue to try to prove ourselves that this occurred. This happened to our people. It did happen. He admitted it. So now what happens after that? I am hoping that we’ll look at national programs that will address abandonment and trauma. That will look at addressing the mental illnesses and how trauma affected our lives.”
It’s a sentiment shared by Phil Fontaine, the former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations and residential school survivor.
“My hope is that Canadians, generally, will accept what they witnessed, and commit themselves to working with Indigenous peoples, the first peoples, and fix the things that are wrong in our communities,” Fontaine told Global News Saturday.
Fontaine said now is the time to focus on moving forward.
“He listened very carefully. He heard what survivors and others had to say about the residential school experience. And as the visit progressed, he began to modify his position with respect to how he viewed the residential school experience and he capped it off by describing the experience as genocide. So he drove the stakes much higher,” Fontaine said.
“But I would caution people that we don’t engage in a long debate whether what happened in residential schools was cultural genocide or genocide period. We know what happened in those schools and that is what needs our attention.”