Social media blew up with the images of Will Smith, a slap, and comedian Chris Rock! The Métis delegation in the Vatican City, seeking an apology from Pope Francis didn’t get nearly as many clicks. Society has different views to what is important. Children abused at the hands of the Roman Catholic Church has my interest, not celebrities behaving as children.
I’ve been blogging since 2008. Writing about what I think of an apology from Pope Francis is the most challenging blog I have written.
When I began to draft this blog, I had many emotions and my mind was scattered, upset and angry and feelings of hopelessness. I attended Holy Angels Residential School in Fort Chipewyan, Alberta for six years, some of my sisters, and my brothers are also former residential school students. I can’t describe my brothers as residential school survivors because they didn’t completely survive that experience. Which is why this is challenging for me to write about. I was not abused emotionally or physically. But I can’t say that my brothers escaped abuse.
I am using my voice because my brothers who attended residential school no longer can. Over the years I have written several blogs on my experience at residential school, this is the first time I write about how my brothers were impacted by residential schools.
Christopher became an alcoholic and died under suspicious circumstances, Billy suffered from headaches all his adult life, and he had no respect for authority. He died alone and his body was not discovered immediately. My youngest brother Max never felt he deserved to be loved; he never married and he too died alone. Patrick never felt he measure up to the white man, and this made his life difficult. Samuel became an alcoholic and died alone.
As a former residential school student, I believe a trip to the Vatican to look Pope Francis in the eyes while I tell him about the impact of residential school on my family would be satisfying, but for only a moment, as he sits and nods empathetically while listening to me tell my brothers’ story. We need our story heard., which is why I write a tiny bit of my brother’s story.
But I can’t help to wonder if Pope Francis views Indigenous peoples as children, and that an audience with him is a privilege and even without any concrete reconciliation action plan we children will be distracted with the opulence and pageantry and that it would be enough just to be in his presence and have him listen to our stories. This reminds me of when Bishop Biché would come to visit Holy Angels and throw candy, rings and trinkets in the air and watch as we scrambled to pick it off the floor. It was a distraction, same as it is now. We delighted in it then, but when I think back. is demeaning, I don’t even do that to my dog, Chewy.
I view any apology too late, and too small a act for my brothers Christopher, Billy, Pat, Samuel, and Max who suffered unmentionable pain.
For years we have known about the abuses in residential schools. Phil Fontaine, former AFN Grand Chief, championed the payout out settlement for residential students.
This week he was in in the Vatican once again to bring the conversation to a global audience. This trip is different because of the horrific discovery of 215 unmarked graves at a former residential school in Kamloops BC and additional former residential school sites. All eyes and hopes are on the Vatican. Will it be different this time?
When evidence resurfaces about residential schools’ horrific legacy it brings up the trauma for the survivors. Inasmuch as my story is different because my experience in residential school was in the 70s and by then attitudes were changing.
That said, there is no denying that the abuse committed on children happened, and for the survivors the continued emotional trauma is transferred to their children and grandchildren.
My brothers were wonderful human beings as brother, father, grandpas. I am the last generation to experience Catholic Church run residential schools.
At the writing of this, I considered what my late brothers, Christopher, Billy Samuel, Patrick, and Max would have needed ten years ago to move past the hurt and trauma and begin their healing journey. I am certain a disingenuous apology sparked by a gruesome discovery would not do.
Even if monetary compensation for pain and suffering was offered that too is too late. Money does not help, I assure you it made no difference to my brother Samuel when he received payout from the class action a few years ago. He walked around knowing he had $170,000 in the bank and was beyond happy. He thought about all the stuff he could buy with the payment he received, a restored 1963 Chevrolet Impala and a trip to NASCAR. By the time he received the payout his life was a mess, and he never was sober enough to buy that classic car and go to NASCAR. He died penniless.
He was five years old on his first day at Holy Angels Residential school. His life was doomed the moment he stepped foot in Holy Angels.
The tragic story of my five brothers is just a small representation of what happened to many. Traveling to the Vatican City creates a national conversation on residential schools, a sound bite When the news cycle ends so will the conversation. Phil Fontaine says there’s hope, and I hope he is right. when I completed the blog I didn’t get catharsis I thought I would. Most times writing helps me process, I guess this was too emotional to create space to healby writing, in the end I was left feeling dire hopeless.
Over the years I’ve been curious of how Holocaust survivors reconciled what happened to them. I read Man’s Search for Meaning, by Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl. He writes those who decided to show up for others, get purpose and empower others.
Pope Francis cannot do that for us. We have to stop seeing our self as victims, we need to empower ourselves, our children, and grandchildren by taking on a greater purpose for the whole. Being accountable to the next generation, essentially breaking the cycle of dysfunction caused by trauma by taking on a life with purpose to help others. At the end of the day, I agree with Phil Fontaine that there is hope, but it is inside us, and not in the Pope.
A final thought about the Catholic Church. It is an institution that has amassed untold riches while directing Catholics how to live their lives. It is a very successful business and the Vatican is a nation state. Its power extended to Dene people in the far north of Canada where it conspired with the Canadian government to attempt to erase the peoples’ languages and cultures. Pope Francis refuses to acknowledge fully the harm his institution has caused while surrounded by riches and finery. We don’t need his apology to know the harm his Church has done.