Indigenous

Anishinaabe support worker travels 11 hours to care for survivors in their language during papal visit

A First Nations support worker drove 1,100 km from Brandon, Man., to Edmonton Alta., to take care of residential school survivors during the papal visit this week while her survivor aunt and mother prepare for a teaching lodge ceremony instead.

Linda Clearsky said elders will better understand the Pope's message if it's delivered in Anishinaabemowin

Linda Clearsky arrived in Edmonton Sunday night ahead of the Pope's address in Maskwacis. She said she takes her mother to survivor events and it's important to her to help others heal. (Francine Compton/CBC)

A First Nations support worker drove from Manitoba to Alberta to provide Anishinaabemowin translations for residential school survivors and to support them during the papal visit this week.

Linda Clearsky knows it's important for survivors to understand an expected apology — as well as other words said by the Pope — in their traditional language, which is why she made the journey with her son.

"That's a huge one because a lot of the elders speak the language," said Clearsky, a support worker for West Region Treaty 2 & 4 Health Services in Brandon, Man.

"I was a little apprehensive at first, because of my family being right there and how my mom is, her saying 'what's sorry going to do for me, it's not going to take away what happened to me.'" 

Her mother, aunts and uncles were sent from their home on Waywayseecappo First Nation, 283 km northwest of Winnipeg, to a residential school on Sandy Bay Ojibway First Nation, 162 km away.

Clearky said her late grandmother was sent to another province and was forced to attend the Lebret residential school in Saskatchewan, 72 km north east of Regina.

"I remember her speaking about it but she really didn't get into a whole lot of it," she said.

Clearsky knows residential school survivors can be reluctant to talk, and that strong emotions will come out, so she carried her eagle feather and smudge for the work ahead — something to heal her while she's helping survivors.

"The sweetgrass, sage and cedar, I'm going to take that with me and my feather. Because it's going to be heavy, it's going to be really heavy," said Clearsky

'I think it's just a waste of money'

Clearsky's 65-year-old auntie and residential school survivor Grace Mentuck said "no" to seeing the pope.

The mother of four and grandmother to 18 grandchildren is instead going to attend a teaching lodge ceremony in Hinton, Alta., along with Clearsky's mother, who will be attending mass at Commonwealth stadium on Tuesday.

"I think it's just a waste of money. I respect other people's reasons and their opinions but for me, it's not important to me to attend that," said Mentuck, who was forced to attend Sandy Bay residential school in southwestern Manitoba from 1963-1968 and now works as a Jordan's Principle case manager in Waywayseecappo.

She didn't grow up with her culture, but found it when she was 30 years old and would never change her plans to attend her annual ceremony — not even for Pope Francis.

"What is important to me is my family, my children, my grandchildren, my life here in Waywayseecappo and my ceremonies, because that's what got me through … what has carried me after suffering, being taken from my parents, being in residential school all those years and having to pick up the pieces after all that," she said.

Mentuck wants people to know that one good thing about Sandy Bay residential school was being able to keep her language intact.

"All of us students spoke our language out in the playground. That was a safe place to use your language," said Mentuck.

Family Support

From Sandy Bay to Waywayseecappo and now in Edmonton, the language was kept alive and will now help residential school survivors and anyone who needs to hear Clearsky's comforting words in their traditinal language.

Her 22-year-old son, Chaz Clearsky-Flett, took the wheel and helped her drive to Alberta.

Chaz Clearsky-Flett said his mother has done a lot to help him and the family so he felt compelled to accompany her and share driving duties on their journey to support Residential School survivors during the papal visit. (Francine Compton/CBC)

"It was a big thing for me to come out here and support my mom. She's done a lot for me and my family, just being around her and my Koko, I know how important it is," said Clearsky-Flett.

He made the journey to comfort his mother so survivors can lean on her.

"We'll all be there to support one another however we can," Clearsky said.

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.

Mental health counselling and crisis support is also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the Hope for Wellness hotline at 1-855-242-3310 or by online chat at www.hopeforwellness.ca.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Francine Compton covers national news for CBC Indigenous in Winnipeg. She has also worked as an executive producer in Ottawa. You can reach her at francine.compton@cbc.ca.

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