I have found myself in much reflection after Pope Francis’ words yesterday on Twitter and if you are reading this, I hope you have taken the time to be mindful of this as well. I am writing this as an intergenerational survivor and as someone whose family was torn apart by the church, the Government of Canada as well as the Canadian Residential School System and Canadian Child Welfare System.
Let’s dissect this together by firstly acknowledging that if somebody is making an apology there needs to be accountability and action behind it or else it’s just empty words and lip service.
“I join the Canadian Bishops and the whole Catholic Church in Canada in expressing my closeness to the Canadian people''. At this point I’m going to change the approach of writing this to direct it towards Pope Francis. Pope Francis, you’re joining the Canadian Bishops and the whole Cathloic Church in Canada in expressing your closeness to those who are actively oppressing the Indigenous nations whose homelands they reside on? The same homelands that your churches occupy and have benefitted from for generations.
You should be joining the Indigenous residential school survivors that the church has directly impacted as well as their families. You should also recognize that you have said you are expressing your closeness to the “Canadian people” as opposed to the many nations who were here prior to the creation of “Canada”, the nations whose children were forcibly taken to Canadian Residential Schools, the nations who have been affected by these acts of genocide, the nations who are STILL HERE.
We are not Canadian, we are our own people, our own tribes, our own nations and I am Anishinaabe. Identifying as a Canadian would be disregarding our existence and that the lands in which Canada resides on, are our ancestral homelands. In turn for those who do identify as a “Canadian”, it’s important to recognize that it is oppressive and so is any celebration of “Canada”.
This brings me to the next part of what has been said, “Who have been traumatised by shocking discovery of the remains of two hundred and fifteen children, pupils at Kamloops Indian Residential School”. Pope Francis, “Canadian people” are not the ones who have been traumatised and we are not going to center them here. The INDIGENOUS people whose homelands were invaded and have been on the receiving end of the acts of genocide and crimes against humanity from the Vatican and the Government of Canada are the ones who have experienced the trauma.
We as Indigenous people are the ones who have been traumatised from this, specifically the families and survivors of the Kamloops Indian Residential School right now, and have been healing from the trauma as well as intergenerational trauma caused by the church, the Government of Canada and the Canadian Residential School System for generations.
This also isn’t a discovery, it is a confirmation of what has already been known and validates the research that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has done estimating that the amount of Indigenous children who died at Canadian residential schools, at the hands of the church and the Government of Canada, is far beyond 6,000.
You, the Vatican and the Government of Canada, need to recognize that accountability needs to take place, ALL residential school sites need to be surveyed for further remains of Indigenous children, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s “Calls To Action” need to be implemented and action needs to be taken to help Indigenous people heal.
You also said, “These difficult times are a strong call for everyone to turn away from the colonial model and walk side by side in dialogue, mutual respect and recognition of the rights and cultural values of all the daughters and sons of Canada.”
You are right in saying that we need to decolonize and from the understanding our ancestors had with things like the Two Row Wampum and treaties established between the Government of Canada and Indigenous people, we were supposed to live harmoniously with those mutual respects and recognition but that didn’t happen. Instead, the church and the Government of Canada set out to colonize through forced assimilation and acts of genocide which has brought us to where we are today. This is still happening and the Government of Canada is still taking Indigenous children from their families.
Let me be very clear in saying that I as an Anishinaabe man AM NOT and WILL NEVER be a “son of Canada”. I am a descendant of Michel Batise, the first Chief of Matachewan First Nation. I am from “Where The Water Meets” and after 25 years of not knowing my family due to what the church and the Government of Canada has done to them, I am writing to you to say that THEY DID NOT SUCCEED.
I am also writing to you to voice that I am standing in solidarity with the families and survivors of Kamloops Indian Residential School as well as all the other families of survivors of the Canadian Residential School System. This is something that I advise you to do as well and to be accountable as well as to actively take action when you provide an apology.