By Dave Baxter,
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Last week’s apology to residential school survivors from Pope Francis was a hugely important moment according to one Manitoba MLA, because now that the apology has come, she said the Catholic Church can no longer deny the role it played in the abuse and mistreatment that so many faced for decades in residential schools.
“Why was an apology from the Pope so important to so many survivors?” NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine said in the Manitoba Legislature on Monday, while reacting to last Friday’s apology from the Pope in which he said he was “very sorry” for the “deplorable” actions of some within the Catholic Church who were involved in Canada’s residential school system.
“It is because of the denial that is colonial history, the denial of our humanity as Indigenous peoples, the denial of the torture and trauma bestowed by the state and the church on little children including our little ones in unmarked graves, the denial of the intergeneration impacts of residential schools.”
Fontaine also took time on Monday to acknowledge the decades of work that long-time Indigenous leader and residential school survivor Phil Fontaine has put into bringing awareness to the horrors and abuses that took place in residential schools, and she said he helped to pave the way for Friday’s papal apology.
“In 1990, Phil Fontaine did an interview disclosing the abuse he suffered at Indian residential schools,” she said. “It was a pivotal moment in Canadian history, as it marked the first time a leader spoke publicly of the horrors occurring in these institutions.
“That interview, along with all the work of courageous survivors, led to the Indian Residential School Settlement, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the 94 Calls to Action, and now ultimately to last week’s papal apology.”
She said now that the Pope has apologized, the Catholic Church must now take real steps to atone for what so many survivors dealt with, and the trauma that has been inflicted on generations of Indigenous people through residential schools.
“Quite obviously the best apology is one that is married to action,” Fontaine said.
Fontaine also acknowledged that she is one of five current members of the NDP caucus with direct family ties to residential school survivors.
“Five of us in this caucus are the children and grandchildren of survivors,” Fontaine said. “We are only here because they lived, and for that we are forever grateful and in awe.”
– Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.