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Local elders who travelled to Edmonton have mixed reaction to papal apology

·2 min read

A residential school survivor says the Pope’s apology was “not enough” for some elders who travelled to Edmonton from Beardy’s and Okemasis First Nation.

Gaylene Sutherland, Indian Residential School Support Worker at Willow Cree Health Services in Beardy’s and Okemasis and residential school survivor, said she brought forty elders from the first nation to hear the pope’s apology in person on July 25.

Out of the forty elders, only around half were receptive to the pope’s visit.

“Some had mixed emotions, some were angry, some just didn't care too much about it,” Sutherland said. “They are still working on that part of themselves.”

While meeting with Indigenous leaders in Edmonton, Alberta, Pope Francis spoke of his “sorrow, indignation, and shame” over the Catholic Church’s role in the abuse of First Nation’s children in Canada’s residential schools.

Edmonton was the first stop of the Pope’s “penitential pilgrimage”, where he apologized and promised that a “serious investigation” would be conducted into what occurred at the schools.

Sutherland said while many other abuses were mentioned, the unacknowledgement about the sexual abuse that went on in residential schools made many survivors feel unheard.

“It was like it was pushed to the side, [sexual abuse] was a big part of all trauma and the intergerational traumas that have been passed down.”

She said she noticed a lot of elders become disengaged while being faced with the trauma that the visit brought forward.

Sutherland said the apology felt insincere and that more could be done in terms of reconciliation.

“For myself, I’m having mixed feelings. A lot of us felt like it wasn’t from the heart,” she said. “The apology wasn’t coming from him, it didn’t feel genuine. He didn’t acknowledge that the churches were wrong, he was just reading what someone else wrote for him.”

Pope Francis touched down in Edmonton on July 24 where he met with Indigenous leaders, and residential school survivors. He also toured the site of former Ermineskin Residential School, which operated until 1975. He also spoke at Sacred Heart Church in Edmonton, and held Mass in Commonwealth Stadium.

His trip was the fourth papal visit to Canada. The Pope also made stops in Quebec and Nunavut before departing.

Bailey Sutherland, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Albert Daily Herald