Indigenous Leadership of Host Nations and Survivors Address Media on Pope Francis' Visit to Canada

Leadership of host Nations and Survivors address media before the Papal visit 

July 21, 2022, (amiskwaciy-waskāhikan/Edmonton, AB) - Today, leadership from the host Nations within the Confederacy of Treaty Six, along with Survivors, gathered to address the media before the Papal visit. Their statements are below. 

Statement by Grand Chief George Arcand Jr., Confederacy of Treaty Six: 

On behalf of the Confederacy of Treaty 6 First Nations, I welcome you all to Treaty 6 Territory. Thank you for joining us today. I want to acknowledge the Survivors here today- Victoria Arcand, Rod Alexis, and Gordon Burnstick for bravely sharing your truths and opening your heart to our guests here today. hiy hiy. Many of our People have been asking for the Pope to visit our lands and deliver an apology- this act is an important part of their healing journey. 

VIDEO Conference Starts at the 24:30 Mark below or use Link:

My mind and heart are with Survivors- how this will impact them, their families and our communities. They have been carrying unimaginable trauma for generations. For many, the acknowledgement of this pain is an important step towards reconciliation. I believe this apology is a beginning- a way forward on our People’s road to healing. I have had the opportunity to spend time with many of our communities and people who survived residential schools. 

Hearing their stories and the suffering they lived through - it’s too painful for me to even imagine how they survived. Many never even made it home, and some could not continue to endure the pain after they left these institutions. Though these harms can never be undone, in order to forget, l do believe there has to be forgiveness. 

If we want to put this behind and rebuild as a People, Survivors have identified this as a necessary step. Only through forgiveness can we build new bridges and rebuild our communities. These events are intended for Survivors. We understand many Indigenous People feel strongly about Pope Francis’s visit. 

I ask for your kindness towards the Survivors who feel this is closure they need - keep them in your hearts and in your prayers. This is an important, historical moment for Survivors of the residential school system and the harm caused by the Catholic Church. 

We all have been impacted by this system - whether it be directly or indirectly. This apology validates our experiences and creates an opportunity for the Church to repair relationships with Indigenous Peoples across the world. It doesn’t end here - there’s a lot to be done. It is a beginning.

Statement by Chief Randy Ermineskin, Ermineskin Cree Nation: 

My name is Chief Randy Ermineskin from Ermineskin First Nation, the host Nation in Maskwacis for the Pope’s visit. Though it has taken too long, we are grateful this day has finally come and that it is taking place in our community. 

As a Survivor, I know what is to come will be painful. Just seeing pictures of the schools, remembering the hallways, the classrooms, how we were treated, it is triggering. It’s emotional. As a Chief, a friend, a relative, a member of this community, I am here to support and help those who will have a difficult time. To listen on behalf of those who are no longer with us as I promised them I would. 

For Survivors from coast to coast, this is an opportunity - the first and maybe last - to perhaps find some closure for themselves and their families. This will be a difficult process but a necessary one. 

We will focus on the truth. We focus on justice - and what is justice? It is reconciliation. We want the truth about what happened at these schools to be shared with the public, to be shared by educators. Everyone needs to know what happened to us so that it never happens again. 

This is a once in a lifetime event for so many of us. It’s important that we support each other as we navigate through it. We will need support and to support each other not only during the apology and visit but afterwards too. This is ongoing and the feelings that come up next week will not just disappear, they will persist. 

This apology will be a fundamental step towards forgiveness, closure, healing and reconciliation. Statement by Chief Desmond Bull, Louis Bull Tribe: 

My name is Desmond Bull, my Cree name Okimow-Kapo. I am the Chief of the Louis Bull Tribe - one of the four First Nations that are a part of Maskwacis of this Treaty 6 territory. Thank you for being here today. 

This historic event is one I did not expect to experience in my lifetime. I don’t think we could have anticipated an event like this two decades ago. It was only when our children were beginning to be found in mass graves - garnering international attention that light was brought to this painful period in our history. 

I am a day school Survivor and a product of intergenerational trauma. I was robbed of my language - I am now slowly relearning and reclaiming it. I’m grateful to witness an admission of truth so we can reconcile and hopefully bring peace to future generations. 

The events next week may weigh heavily and open old wounds for Survivors. I ask Survivors to please be strong during this time and seek out support services to assist in coping with your trauma. Remember we are here with you and are supporting you. 

The Pope’s visit may mean something different to each person- it is an understatement to say there are mixed emotions about the Papal’s upcoming visit. I feel we need to be prepared for the fallout from these events. There must be enough mental health support and hotline resources available to help the thousands of people who will be dealing with the aftermath for the weeks, months and years to come.

Our people should look to our ceremonies and medicines to help heal. Most of all - we can rely on laughter. Our communities use laughter as medicine and I know it will bring us together as a people after this. With these events - the world is learning more about our history. We are the subject of conversations happening in homes across the country. I feel attitudes are shifting and hearts are opening to who we are as a people. 

Remember that however these events make you feel, your feelings matter and you are not alone. 

Statement by Chief Tony Alexis, Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation: 

Abawashded - Hello and thank you for being here with us today. The Pope’s presence at our annual pilgrimage at Lac Ste Anne is a historical moment that many of our People have been waiting for. 

We have a name for the lake - it’s known in my community as Wakamne, Waka translates to ‘God’ or ‘Holy’ and mne translates to ‘lake’. This lake has great spiritual significance and is known for its healing waters. Wakamne has been used by First Nations Peoples for generations-long before settlers came. And maybe unknowingly, this was a place of reconciliation - the coming together of two worlds. Indigenous and non-Indigenous when the first pilgrimage to these shores was in 1889. 

To this day, thousands of people from across North America make the trip to this site to be healed, pray and receive its blessings. For some of our People, Pope Francis’ visit evokes complex feelings. My hope is that much like Wakamne and its healing abilities, the apology brings healing to Survivors and their families. 

Pope Francis’ apology is an acknowledgement of the Church’s role in the harm and pain caused to Indigenous Peoples living in Canada. Some First Nations Peoples are practising Catholics, for them they see this as a moment of celebration and acknowledgement. While some community 

members are angry and still struggling - they do not want to forgive the Church and how the Church’s actions changed the trajectory of their lives. 

For others, the apology is a validation of their experience - it either marks the start of their healing journey or helps them find the closure they needed to keep moving forward. For our Elders and community members who practice our ancient customs, traditions and ways of knowing and doing - they are skeptical of what this means. They do not want to hear that how they practice spirituality is wrong - they want acceptance. We all pray in our own way to the same spirit, the same God. 

There’s a real opportunity for leaders of the Church and of Indigenous communities to come together and build a bridge of reconciliation. True reconciliation is not a photo opportunity. There's still a great deal of work ahead of us, but it’s a good start. There is hope healing will happen - not just for us but for the Church also. They need to unlearn their old ways and learn to work together in partnership. That is how we take the steps required towards restoration and reparation.

Statement by Elder and Survivor Rod Alexis, Alexis Nakota Sioux First Nation: 

My parents and I are Survivors of residential school. I remember the stories. My late Dad told me one day, he said, ‘son, I don’t know how to be a parent. I lost that gift given to us by the Creator because I was all alone in residential school – many times I wanted to say I love you, I wanted to give you a hug, but I didn’t know how.’ He said that pain hurts inside – some complained because of physical pain they encountered in residential school, but the spiritual, mental and emotional pain we go through is far greater. They tried to take away our spirit – what made us strong. I think we are going on a long journey – it’s not going to be easy, because some of these wounds are too far gone. 

In order to have reconciliation you have to have peace within yourself – peace around you. People don’t understand that peace – they figure reconciliation sounds easy. I’m a practising Catholic and I go to mass. I believe in that. But, sometimes I ask Creator, ‘God, do you hear me? Why are we treated differently? What did we do wrong? We opened our hearts when they came to this land and we showed them how to survive, but in return they showed us something different. They made it sound like we don’t belong. 

I remember the echoes of my Dad, my Mom, and the stories of our People from our community – myself included – walking the roads, trying to figure out: ‘where do I fit in?’ Even today, we still think about that. I thank the Pope for coming down. He carries the burden of the Catholic faith, but the ones that he sent in front of the Catholic faith – they’re the ones that did the damage. 

This is what this country needs – do not take away the spirit, tradition, and our souls. That’s what they did to us. They took away our spirit. We have to heal. 

Statement by Elder and Survivor Gordon Burnstick, Alexander First Nation: 

Good afternoon, I come from a larger family. My Mother had sixteen children, my Dad had two sons and one adopted son. Nineteen of us, and along with my parents, we were all in residential schools. Right from ten years to two days. 

We added up our years one time, all of us and it came up to over 100 years. That's one hundred years of residential schools in one family. In 2007 we had a family gathering. My brother said to my sister, ‘sister I love you but I don't know you.’ 

We grew up in a residential school, and we never talked to our sisters there. We came home for the summer for two months and even then we didn’t see them. When he said ‘I love you sister, but I don’t know you’ it made her cry. And it hit me right here. 

In 2007, I applied to work with Survivors as a health support. I’ve been there for sixteen years now. Working with Survivors.

Source: Papal Visit Press Release -