By Scott McLean
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Grand Chief of Treaty 8 Arthur Noskey is asking all federal parties to include some form of mental health supports for victims of the residential school system in their platforms for an expected fall election.
Noskey said in an interview that financial compensation has not been enough for many survivors that are still traumatized by the experience. He hopes to see parties address the generational and direct traumas that can be found in survivors, their families and communities.
“I’d like to serve notice to all the political parties out there that they will have to address the Indian residential school system and restitution and basically resolve it,” said Noskey. “If there is a commitment from all parties then I think that goes further than being elected as the next government.”
The Liberals have promised to renew funding of the Indian Residential Schools Health Supports Program and Crisis Line. The Conservatives have pledged to fund the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action involving missing children. The Greens have promised to implement all calls to action regarding residential schools, and fund new Indigenous healing centres. The NDP have yet to release a platform on the topic.
Noskey, who was reelected to a second term on July 30, said Treaty 8 First Nations are developing plans to search the grounds of 11 former residential schools in the area later this month. This includes the Holy Angels Residential School in Fort Chipewyan.
Treaty 8 includes all First Nations in the Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo area.
Noskey said the sharing of traumatic memories and stories of what happened at many of the residential schools has become common in Indigenous communities as unmarked graves continue to be found.
“We’re dealing with this on a consistent basis, because we are talking to the survivors and engaging with the community and its ongoing,” he said. “People have held this hurt, this pain, they kept it under a veil never to say anything but now more people are sharing their stories. Emotionally it’s hard but I believe it will eventually bring healing to survivors.”
Noskey is not asking for an apology from Pope Francis for the Catholic Church’s involvement in the residential school system.
Instead, he wants the church to formally repeal Inter Caetera, a Papal bull issued by Pope Alexander VI in 1493 often described as the Doctrine of Discovery.
That edict, which was written to settle territorial disputes between Spain and Portugal, stated Europeans exploring the Americas had the “divine clemency to bring under your sway the said mainlands and islands with their residents and inhabitants to bring them to the Catholic faith.” In 2017, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishop’s rejected lands with an Indigenous population could be conquered.
“I don’t want a pope apologizing,” said Noskey. “If anything I would ask a pope to issue a Papal Bull stating that those First Nations have treaties with the Imperial Crown, honour them. Because it looks like Canada is more on the side of what the Pope says versus honouring the treaties that they were supposed to be looking after on behalf of the Imperial Crown.”
Noskey also wants Queen Elizabeth II to intervene. The monarch also serves as the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, which includes the Anglican Communion. The Anglican church’s Canadian leadership formally apologized in 1993 for its role in the residential school system, as did the United Church in 1998.
Some Catholic priests, bishops and organizations have apologized on behalf of the church and Pope Francis’ predecessor apologized to a group of survivors visiting the Vatican in 2009. But no pope has delivered a public apology.
“It’s the 21st century but the residential school system is still having its effects and the Queen has to do something about it,” said Noskey. “Since Canada doesn’t want to do anything about it, we have to look at our sovereign partner to start looking our way more.”
As grand chief, Noskey wants Indigenous communities to be involved in the province’s economic development plans as crude oil trades at its highest level in seven years.
“I think it’s good that the economy is rebounding and I don’t want First Nations communities to stall the rebound,” said Noskey.
-with reporting from Vincent McDermott
Scott McLean is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the FORT MCMURRAY TODAY. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.