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Indigenous Canadians hopeful ahead of Pope’s apology for school abuse

#Indigenous #Canadians #hopeful #ahead #Popes #apology #school #abuse

For decades, trauma has lingered in the tiny Indigenous Canadian community of Maskwacis. But some are hoping to finally find some measure of closure during a visit from Pope Francis, who apologizes for the church’s role in a century of abuse.

The Pope will stop in the 19,000-strong community about 100 kilometers north of Edmonton, Alberta, on July 25 to visit the site of one of the state boarding schools run by churches where Indigenous children were once forcibly confiscated.

Many of the children – those who survived – still live in towns like Maskwacis.

“Maybe they’re hearing something that will help them move forward in life,” Randy Ermineskin, chief of the Ermineskin Cree Nation, told AFP.

Indigenous rights advocate Wilton “Willie” Littlechild was part of a delegation that traveled to the Vatican in April to urge the 85-year-old pope to come to Canada on the once unimaginable tour.

“His Holiness’s apology will have a great impact,” he said.

“Once you have the apology and the forgiveness, people will start to feel a sense of healing and then they will find closure,” said the 78-year-old attorney and former boss, who spent 14 years of his childhood at residential schools.

In Maskwacis, on the western edge of Canada’s vast prairie region, a simple plaque partially obscured by overgrown grass and dandelions indicates the site of the former Ermineskin Indian Residential School where the Pope will appear.

Before its closure in 1976, it was one of the largest of the 139 state schools run by churches across Canada, which some 150,000 Indigenous, Inuit and Metis children were forced to attend as part of a failed assimilation policy.

Students were cut off from their family, language and culture. Many were physically and sexually abused by teachers and school principals, and thousands are believed to have died from disease, neglect and malnutrition.

Canada has grappled with this brutal past for years. But the discovery of the remains of hundreds of Indigenous children buried in unmarked graves on school grounds in recent months has seared the national consciousness with the reality of how the state and churches have made them suffer.

– ‘Cannot go forward’ –

In the city, a stray dog ​​wanders the streets, past abandoned tricycles and discarded mattresses in front of houses charred by fire or covered in graffiti.

Resident Connie Roan, 67, who is inspecting her garden, says she hopes a “great blessing” from the pope will transform her community plagued by gangs and illegal drugs.

“It’s rough here,” she said. “People are not moving forward” because of the trauma inflicted on them in the schools.

A 2015 report by a Truth and Reconciliation Commission concluded that the indigenous school system amounted to “cultural genocide.”

It has been blamed for high incidences of poverty, alcoholism, and domestic violence, as well as high rates of suicide in Indigenous communities.

– ‘Everyone needs healing’ –

Several of Gilda Soosay’s brothers and sisters attended Ermineskin School.

Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows Parish Council Chair in Maskwacis and a member of the Samson Cree Nation says she prays the papal visit will bring healing, not just for her people, “but for all of Canada.”

“Everyone needs healing,” she said, adding that Francis’ visit “is a miracle in itself.”

But miracles are not always enough.

As a schoolchild, Brian Lee, 68, was “taught to hate my own people” and repeatedly told that his native language – Cree – was “the language of the devil”.

He calls for more funding for indigenous initiatives.

And at a nearby skate park, 22-year-old Seanna Fryingpan, a young mother with a cigarette behind her ear and a rose tattoo on the back of her hand, describes the Pope’s visit as “pretty cool.”

“I’m going to take a lot of photos,” she tells AFP.

But she says that while an apology is important, it can only go so far.

“It will not erase the past.”

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#Indigenous #Canadians #hopeful #ahead #Popes #apology #school #abuse

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