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Hope and uneasiness among indigenous people ahead of Pope’s visit to Canada

#Hope #uneasiness #among #indigenous #people #ahead #Popes #visit #Canada

Pope Francis’ forthcoming visit to Canada, where he is to apologize to indigenous peoples for more than a century of abuse at church-run state schools, has raised hope but also suspicion.

AFP spoke to an Indigenous artist, a chief and a former student at one of the schools where children were suffering from a failed government policy of assimilation that cut them off from their family, language and culture.

Here is a snapshot of their views on the Pope’s trip.

– ‘Mixed feelings’ –

Elisapie Isaac, a singer-songwriter and activist originally from the far north Inuk community of Salluit, has become a voice for her people.

“I have mixed feelings about the coming of the Pope,” said the 45-year-old, who recently took to social media to appeal to Quebec’s prime minister to acknowledge “systemic racism” in the Canadian province.

“I tell myself it must be good for the survivors to feel something happening, to know it’s coming. But I also tell myself that the pious were probably the worst for the locals,” she says, adding, “It’s easy too” to come now — decades later.

“We still suffer a lot from the trauma that was passed from generation to generation,” says the artist, who now lives in Montreal and is happy that people today want to learn and understand the history of the indigenous people.

The papal visit must “highlight the people who have suffered…they are the ones who count.”

It’s high time institutions like the Catholic Church did their part, she says, because otherwise “it’s very difficult to move forward as a society and to live together, to feel balance and harmony.”

“I think we’ve had an awakening and people are listening. They want to turn to us and that’s an incredible breath of fresh air. It almost heals us. It is now up to the institutions to act.”

– “A long way” –

Wilton “Willie” Littlechild celebrated his 78th birthday on April 1, 2022 – the same day he and an Indigenous delegation met with Pope Francis in Rome, where the pope issued an apology and promised to repeat it in Canada.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday present,” says Littlechild, who spent 14 years in one of the schools from the age of six.

It marked the culmination of a decade for this indigenous rights advocate in which he goaded Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI, and then the current pope.

During his trips to the Vatican, he urged them to come to Canada and personally apologize to the indigenous population of more than 1.6 million people – almost a third of whom identify as Roman Catholic.

“In order for us to heal … as best we can, we need an apology,” he tells AFP.

Littlechild has worked tirelessly throughout his life to advance indigenous peoples’ rights, including at the United Nations, where he worked on the UN Declaration on Indigenous Peoples’ Rights.

He wears a cowboy hat and shirt adorned with images of wolves and dream catchers. He says he survived his boarding school through studies and sports.

“Sport saved my life, hockey saved my life,” he says, recalling doing late-night runs to try to forget the abuse that often brought him to tears.

And finally he says, “I have forgiven.”

– sorry “a big deal” –

Chief Billy Morin — leader of the Enoch Cree Nation, an Indigenous community near Edmonton, Alberta of about 2,700 people — says he is “hopeful” the pope’s visit will help heal the scars left by the government’s failed policies forced assimilation through education.

“Not everyone wants the Pope to apologize. They don’t care,” he admits.

“But for many elders, it’s a moment of completion…a moment of healing, a moment of celebration, a moment of reflection.”

At 35, Morin says he’s grateful he avoided being sent to boarding school like his grandparents.

But like many of Canada’s Indigenous peoples, he has not escaped the painful legacy of the schools and points to an intergenerational trauma, often manifested in alcoholism and emotional detachment, that continues to affect his family and community.

“Our grandparents and my parents first had to learn how to be good parents again,” explains the father of four, who is just learning the Cree language of his ancestors.

The occasional churchgoer says of Francis’ visit, “That’s good…because if he didn’t, that question would always remain open.”

“It’s a big deal,” he says, adding that it’s also just “one step” on a “journey of healing.”

“We’re definitely not finished.”

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#Hope #uneasiness #among #indigenous #people #ahead #Popes #visit #Canada

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