'We can forgive, but we'll never forget': residential school survivors in Manitoba travel to papal visit stop

Hundreds of residential school survivors are travelling to the Edmonton stop in the Canadian papal visit. Some want an apology, others want to see a commitment from the Catholic Church to support First Nation people in their healing journey.

Some going to Edmonton want apology, others hope church commits to supporting healing for First Nations

Manitoba knowledge keepers Linda Bunn Daniels, Cindy Woodhouse and Phil Fontaine are pictured in Rome. (Cindy Woodhouse Nepinak/Facebook)

Linda Daniels is getting ready to leave Portage la Prairie, Man., to travel to Edmonton for the Pope's first stop in the Canadian papal visit. 

The 68-year old who was forced to attend the Sandy Bay Residential School is nervous about the emotions she'll feel if the Pope delivers an apology for the church's involvement in the residential school system.

"Once he says the apology … I know it's going to be hard," said Linda, who was overcome with emotions. 

"We are going to heal, the people are going to heal, and they'll rise up, and it's going to be a better place for our people." 

Linda is travelling with a Manitoba Assembly of First Nations delegation, and will be accompanied by family — including her brother Ernie Daniels, who is a survivor of the Portage la Prairie Residential School. 

This week's trip to Edmonton won't be the first time Linda has met the Pope. She was part of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis delegations that went to the Vatican earlier this year. 

"It was very, very hard, I had a hard time … I wanted to do it for my sisters, and my siblings, and my family, and the kids that didn't make it home," said Linda. 

"When I met the Pope, in my mind [when] I shook his hand, I said, 'feel our pain.'" 

Linda says the Pope listened intently to the survivors, and she walked away feeling like the Pope did in fact feel her pain. 

Linda Daniels is seen here presenting a beaded leather stole to the Holy Father with former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations Phil Fontaine. Daniels will soon travel to Edmonton for the first stop in the Canadian papal visit. (Vatican Media/Reuters)

Métis delegation travels to Edmonton 

Andrew Carrier, who is vice president of the Winnipeg Métis Association, is leaving for Edmonton later this week with a delegation organized by the Manitoba Métis Federation. 

He's an Indian day school survivor, and says the trauma he experienced in school continues to haunt him. 

Day school survivor Andrew Carrier, centre, is travelling to Edmonton with the Manitoba Métis Federation to attend the first stop in the papal visit. (Kat Patenaude/Supplied)

"I was seven years old not knowing what had taken place, and of course the shock of being accosted by the priest, it really changed my life," said Andrew Carrier, who attended École Sainte-Marie in St. Vital. 

"It wasn't until later that I realized that … [it] had stolen my innocence and put [in me] a fear in God." 

Next week's papal visit will be the second time Carrier will see Pope Francis; he was part of the Manitoba Métis Federation delegation that went to the Vatican. 

"When I met with Pope Francis back in April and I told him of my abuse, and the impact it has had on my whole life, I actually believe he had a tear in his eye," said Carrier. 

For Carrier, he hopes that hearing an apology from the church will give him the closure he's looking for. 

"I myself grew up silent and [was] told to be silent and not talk about it. And having the apology will really be the first step of reconciliation." 

"The foundation of truth needs to be heard and acknowledged." 

Carrier, who is still a devout Catholic, says it's about time the church gives back to the Indigenous communities.

"For years we have given to the church, and now the church needs to reinvest and return to the community," said Carrier. 

Commitment from the church 

For Linda's brother Ernie Daniels, the papal visit is the perfect time for the Catholic Church to commit to Indigenous communities in Canada. 

"The trip to Edmonton is anticlimatic for me in that we got what we wanted in Rome," said Ernie Daniels. 

Ernie wants to see the Catholic Church invest in programs that will help Indigenous communities continue to heal from the harmful effects of intergenerational trauma caused by the residential school system. 

Residential school survivor Ernie Daniels is travelling to Edmonton to help support other survivors attending the first stop in the papal visit. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

"I'm not looking for compensation. I'm not looking for money. I'm looking for programs that will assist my children and my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren in the recovery process." 

"The hurt is still there, the pain is still there, which affects our children, our grandchildren, our community as a whole … our nation needs to heal and come together ... a healthy nation is a strong nation." 

Ernie was instrumental in purchasing the Portage la Prairie Residential School, his former school, for his community of Long Plain First Nation. The school is now the National Indigenous Residential School Museum of Canada. 

He has taken several people on tours of the museum, and has seen firsthand how being at a former residential school site is helpful in illustrating what survivors have been through. 

Ernie's hope is that when Pope Francis visits Ermineskin Indian Residential School in Alberta, he'll get a deeper understanding of what survivors have been through. 

When "you walk on the grounds of our ancestors, our survivors who passed on … you walk on the ground that they lived on and experience what they went through," said Ernie. 

"You can feel the surroundings of where they went to school, you can touch the building where they went to school and get that feeling." 

As a knowledge keeper, Ernie says his top priority in going to Edmonton is to be there for other survivors, like his sister Linda, who has been carrying a lot of pain over the years.

"We can forgive, but we'll never forget what happened, and the pain, we'll always carry the pain until the day we die," said Linda. 

Still, she hopes the Pope will apologize.

"Acknowledge us and say he's sorry for what [his] people did to us ... and I can go on with my journey because I was stuck there for a long time."

"I know [the apology won't] be much for people, but for me I'll be able to go on."

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak and the Archdiocese of St. Boniface are also sending survivors and Indigenous community members to Alberta for the papal visit. 

WATCH | Survivors ponder the Pope's arrival:

Anticipating the Papal visit

2 months ago
Duration 2:45
Survivors prepare for the Pope's visit to Canada with mixed emotions and different expectations


Stephanie Cram is a reporter based in Winnipeg. She has worked for the CBC Indigenous Unit, and the CBC radio show Unreserved. She is the host of the podcast Muddied Water: 1870, Homeland of the Métis.