This week apology from pope francis for abuses committed in Canada’s church-run residential schools marks a historic moment. But not everyone sees the gesture as significant.
I had the pleasure of attending a press conference this week for the upcoming Feast of the First Peoples in Montreal, and spoke with several members of the indigenous community about the papal apology. Many saw it as a symbolic act that is too little too late. And who can blame them? There are no words that can undo the atrocities committed or restore the lives lost. Others were indifferent. In the end, no one I spoke to seemed impressed or moved.
The festival’s co-founder, André Dudemaine, an Innu, said he sees the pope’s visit and apology as symbolic and necessary. But he said the focus should be on the indigenous peoples themselves. What is the aim of the festival? Several activities are on the list for August 9-18 at the Place des Festivals and elsewhere: film screenings, art exhibitions, readings, a university symposium, concerts, and more. It is a good way to immerse yourself and learn more about indigenous cultures.
former senator Murray Sinclair, meanwhile, was more forceful about the papal visit. In a statement, he said that “it is important to underline that the church was not just an agent of the state, nor a simple participant in government politics, but was a major co-author of the darkest chapters in the history of this earth. ” A powerful indictment of the chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which in 2015 launched 94 “calls to action” for reconciliation between Canadians and indigenous peoples. Clearly, much remains to be done.
A video circulating on social media provides another powerful indictment. It shows a woman named Si Pih Ko singing what sounds like O Canada she believes in. Her voice is raw and full of emotion. Actually, it’s not our national anthem at all. The woman tells the Pope to go home. Loosely translated: “This land was beautiful as we were and that they should return to their own land and right the wrongs they have done.”
Meanwhile, questions are being raised about the amount of money spent on the pope’s six-day tour. The federal government said it will spend $35 million, largely to support community-led activities, ceremonies, and travel expenses for survivors. Ottawa is also paying for the safety of the Pope, since his trip is a state visit. The Alberta government expected to spend up to $20 million to improve roads and infrastructure prior to your arrival.
Now, it seems to make sense to finance the travel expenses of the survivors and ensure the safety and comfort of the 85-year-old pontiff. But there is something jarring about all this when you consider the Third World conditions in which many indigenous groups continue to live. Dozens of communities lack reliable access to clean drinking water, for example. I realize this is a complex issue, but I wonder: Would this have been allowed to go on for so long in any other community in a country as rich as Canada? It seems to me that for some emergencies, like the pandemic, massive amounts of government funding suddenly materialize and there is an urgency to mobilize and put solutions in place.
I also realize that as a non-Catholic and non-Indigenous person, I may not be the ideal candidate to comment on the Pope’s “pilgrimage of penance.” I can’t begin to imagine what is going through the minds of the residential school survivors and the families who had their children taken from them, never to return. I can’t imagine the horror of having to live your life without knowing what happened to your son. I can only hope that as we acknowledge the history of wrongdoing, the healing can begin.
Fariha Naqvi-Mohamed is the founder and editor-in-chief of CanadianMomEh.coma lifestyle blog.
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