An apology from the Pope without actions means 'nothing': Manitoba residential school survivors

As First Nations, Métis and Inuit delegates continue to meet with Pope Francis in Vatican City, some residential school survivors in Manitoba want to see much more than an apology from the Holy See.

For some, even an apology for Catholic role in residential schools won't be enough

Peter Yellow Quill, who spent he bulk of his childhood and adolescence in residential schools, is calling on the Pope to 'repent' for the actions of the Catholic Church and make amends to survivors who are still suffering from the trauma. (Darin Morash/CBC)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

As First Nations, Métis and Inuit delegates continue to meet with Pope Francis in Vatican City, some residential school survivors in Manitoba want to see much more than an apology from the Holy See.

A delegation from the Assembly of First Nations is the last Indigenous group from Canada to meet privately with the Pope this week before a final public audience on Friday.

The delegates' requests from the Pope include a formal apology, the release of residential school records and and a papal visit to Canada.

In Manitoba, people who have been touched by residential schools, day schools and other oppressive systems have been taking part this week in the We Will Survive conference, hosted by the Wa-Say Healing Centre.

Flora McKay, a day school survivor from Pine Creek First Nation, says the Pope owes residential school survivors an apology, though it will be 'useless' for her. (Darin Morash/CBC)

"I suffered every indignity, especially in Brandon, and I saw every indignity being perpetrated upon my schoolmates," said Peter Yellow Quill, who attended residential schools in Brandon and Portage La Prairie for 11 years, and spent most summers in foster homes.

"It's one thing that I've carried all my life. I buried it deep. I buried it so deep, but it still comes up every once in a while."

His mother recently disclosed that she was also forced to attend, had suffered beatings and was burned with cigarettes.

Delegates in Rome have been calling on the Pope to apologize for the Catholic Church's role in residential schools, but he has yet to offer one.

Yellow Quill says the Pope, as a Christian, should repent for the church's actions, and that implies actions beyond the words "I'm sorry."

"What good is an apology when you have to pull teeth or draw blood from a rock? Jesus Christ compels him and commands, and he should have apologized from the word go. They've known about this murder, this rape over these hundred years, and they said nothing," Yellow Quill said.

Without following up an apology with a visit to Canada, returning land and money and revoking the centuries-old papal decrees used to justify the seizure of Indigenous land, the words mean "nothing," Yellow Quill said.

Lori Mainville, centre, a third-generation residential school survivor, attends the We Are Still Here conference with her daughter, Lindsay Whitehorse, left, and her husband, Michael Cress. (Darin Morash/CBC)

Some are not ready to hear the apology.

Flora McKay, an elder from Pine Creek First Nation, lived through day schools.

"It's hard to talk about. It's too much. There was too much trauma, too much abuse," she said.

McKay says she will never support the church and an apology won't change the past. Even so, she adds, the Pope still should offer one, because she believes that's the least people who were traumatized from residential schools deserve.

Lori Mainville, a third-generation residential school survivor attending the We Will Survive conference with her daughter, Lindsay Whitehorse, and her husband, Michael Cress, says she feels kinship with people who have similar life experiences.

"As heavy as it was — moments that I really wanted to cry and and I had to pray on the spot and smudging and so on —I'm so honoured to be amongst relatives and people who have experienced similar things," she said.

That honour hasn't been shown to Indigenous people by the Catholic Church, Mainville says.

"It's a relationship of of respect, I think, that needs to be afforded to our people — you know, in that it's going to take time to heal — and I'm not too sure an apology will do it.  

"It's a process. I'm not there, myself."

Wa-Say Healing Centre hosts conference for residential school survivors

2 years ago
Duration 1:38
Featured VideoMore than 700 people from across Canada find hope and healing at a conference called We Are Still Here.

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools or by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

With files from Peggy Lam