Maskwacis elder sees big change in her community following papal visit

Click to play video: 'Months after Pope Francis apology, Maskwacis moving forward on reconciliation'
Months after Pope Francis apology, Maskwacis moving forward on reconciliation
Mascwacis, which is on Treaty 6 land, was the location of a historic papal apology in 2022. Daintre Christensen returned to the Alberta community to hear how those there are coping with the emotions that came along with the papal visit, and the steps the community there is taking to move forward in the reconciliation process. – Mar 14, 2023

This is the first story in a Global News series called Journey Towards Reconciliation. The second, third and fourth stories will be published this week. 

Elder Mary Moonias of the Louis Bull Tribe spent 10 years in a residential school. She was taken from her family when she was just seven years old.

“There was four of us: myself and three little ones,” she said about her brothers and sister that attended at the same time.

Moonias said she was not allowed to talk to her siblings. She would go to school to learn to read and write, and in the summer she would return home and attend ceremonies with her family.

“We’d attend Sun Dance and other ceremonies,” she said. “I (would) go home to my language.”

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In July of 2022, Moonias sat in front of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as she watched Pope Francis make his historic apology in Maskwacis on Treaty 6 land. She said it felt like a burden was being lifted.

“I felt at that time it was genuine, and that we needed to hear it — not read about it or hear it on TV,” she said. “We heard it from him and that means a lot.”

Moonias noted a change in her community, especially in how it has started coming together to heal and move forward since the apology was made.

“I really feel that it was a big change. I see a change in our people,” she said. “Ceremonies are being celebrated again. I see people are much happier.”

Daintre Christensen walks with Elder Mary Moonias at the Ermineskin Cree Nation Powwow grounds. Global News

Not everyone found healing in the words of Pope Francis. Bert Bull, a cultural adviser with the Louis Bull Tribe, said he did not want to see him or hear the apology.

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The day school survivor said the ripple effect on his family would be too much. Instead, he said healing would be a lifelong process.

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“What’s my healing?” he said. “It’ll be continuous for the rest of my life.”

Click to play video: 'Trudeau says Pope’s apology had ‘enormous impact’ on residential school survivors'
Trudeau says Pope’s apology had ‘enormous impact’ on residential school survivors

Chief Desmond Bull, chief of the Louis Bull Tribe, said some of his members felt the same way.

When he came to Maskwacis, there was a lot of apprehension, that kind of you’d feel this kind of tension,” Bull told Global News as part of the television special Journey Towards Reconciliation. 

Bull spoke about protesters who called for the Catholic Church to renounce the Doctorine of Discovery, a 500-year-old doctrine that was created to say rights to lands that were “discovered” could be claimed in the name of European nations, when in fact Indigenous people called them home.

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“If they really want to be mindful in regards to offering some sort of path of healing, you know, acknowledge the Doctrine of Discovery happened, but dismiss it also,” Chief Bull said.

Chief Bull said he had mixed emotions about the visit. He recognized that it was a step forward in the healing process,  but said it reopened old wounds for many of his members.

We still live in a generation where we have survivors that are still alive,” he said. “What impact will this have on them? Will this have them relive those traumas?

Chief Bull said the visit “shone an international light on the tragedies and what occurred to us as indigenous people.”

“It really showed that this has happened to a group of people that are still around and are still coping with this trauma,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Journey Towards Reconciliation: A Global News special'
Journey Towards Reconciliation: A Global News special

The focus of the community has now shifted to helping those individuals cope with what they have been through.

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“As First Nations, you know, our trauma is pretty much kind of our own,” Chief Bull said.

“For someone to see that and relive it and then have to go back and then talk about it over again, it’s very difficult to to try to co-ordinate what kind of good may have came out of this.”

“I try to think in context, what if residential schools didn’t happen to us as Indigenous people?” Chief Bull said.

“If we were allowed to flourish under the treaties as they were intended, you know, where would we be now?

Chief Bull does not believe the word reconciliation fits for the journey that Canada is on. He said the word implies that harm was committed to both parties. In this case, that isn’t true.

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“We, as First Nations, Indigenous people or Inuit people, we didn’t do (anything) wrong,” he said.

When it comes to the next steps in healing, Moonias said it’s about Indigenous people leaning into their culture with an open heart, and she would like to see more support for students.

“I want to see more opportunities for young people to upgrade and go on to further training and on to university,” she said.

They can (have) a comfortable life (for) themselves, their families, their children, their elders, and bring that knowledge back to the community.”

–With files from Daintre Christensen, Global News

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.

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