DECOLONIZING YOUR NEWSFEED
Pope Francis greets Métis Elder and residential school survivor Angie Crerar as Métis National Council President Cassidy Caron and Elder Emilien Janvier look
on, inside the Vatican's Clementine Hall.(@franciscus)
Self-Care Advisory: This newsletter contains sensitive subject matter about abusive Indian boarding schools.
It may be disturbing to some readers. Support is here.
It was a big deal when Métis Elder Angie Crerar got to hold the Pope's hand on Monday. Her entire upbringing had been rooted in the Roman Catholic Church. For decades throughout the 20th century, priests and nuns had carried out Canada's dirty work - to wipe clean any trace of language,
culture or tradition that Indigenous children may have learned before they were forced into residential schools.
At 85, Crerar recalled her own experience like it was yesterday. Speaking to Cowessess First Nation journalist Creeson Agecoutay in Rome this week, the Elder Métis survivor told him about the day in 1947 when the Royal Canadian Mounted Police took her and her younger siblings to the St. Joseph Residential Institution in Fort Resolution, Northwest Territories where they remained for a decade. She was only eight.
"My sister was screaming; we didn't know what was going on," said Crerar, who described the numbers they were assigned like prisoners. Her number was 6 and her sisters' were 17 and 63. She also told
the reporter that she still carries physical scars from the abuse she endured at the Catholic-run boarding school.
Yet she reached for the Holy See, Pope Francis, with grace this week during a historic visit among Indigenous delegates at the Vatican, the latest stride in an epic journey toward healing from such tragedy.
The meetings among First Nation, Inuit, and Métis survivors led to a papal apology, what Crerar and other delegates were advocating for as guests of the Canadian
Conference of Catholic Bishops.
"For the deplorable conduct of those members of the Catholic Church, I ask for God's forgiveness and I want to say to you with all my heart: I am very sorry," said Pope Francis.
Pope Francis issuing an apology to Indigenous residential school survivors at the Vatican, April 1, 2022 (Vatican News - English)
It's not the first apology Indigenous residential school survivors have received. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper asked for forgiveness in 2008 in a hushed and emotional House of Commons speech. Opposition leaders also offered a mea culpa. Indigenous leaders were invited to speak, too, but only at the last minute - an act that elevated the apology from political performance to one of true moral repair. It mattered.
"The staging and scripting of this apology visually demonstrated the moral inclusion of the victims in the same forum," said Sandeijn Cels in an article published in Political Psychology analyzing what she called
"apology theory." Today, Cels teaches the course "Becoming an Agent of Change" at Harvard Extension School, among other programs. She described Canada's 2008 apology as inclusive of residential school survivors - "enabling them to actually function as primary interlocutors who could literarily contribute to the moral discourse." In other words, it assigned deep agency to forgive (or not) determined by those who directly or generationally have endured mental, physical and sexual abuse experienced at these schools.
The lead-up to the papal apology was similar in that the Catholic Church embraced the presence of its Indigenous delegates throughout the week - in Rome, at the Vatican, and in the press. For Elders like Angie Crerar, such attention helped correct an imbalance of attention given to Métis
survivors over the course of Canada's Truth and Reconciliation process, which short-changed them from the historic $1.9 billion in reparations afforded to First Nations and Inuit survivors. (Canada argues that Métis educations were carried out provincially, not federally - meaning the country should not be held accountable to the Métis.)
For Crerar, hearing Pope Francis say "I'm sorry" is an acknowledgement that's long-been absent for her people. Last year, after some 200 bodies were reportedly detected by ground radar technology at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia, the discovery triggered old traumas from St. Joseph's in Fort Resolution. Thirteen years earlier, survivors there called for a
similar investigation of unmarked graves, but no action was ever taken.
At the final press conference on Friday, Crerar got the last and perhaps most meaningful word as the path to forgiveness moves forward.
“Our children are precious, let’s find them.”
Items left on the steps of the Catholic church in Fort Resolution, N.W.T., in 2021, in remembrance of lives lost at residential schools. (Kate Kyle/CBC)
Pope Francis is expected to visit Canada in July where Indigenous delegates are hoping he will symbolically reissue his apology on Indigenous homelands in Canada - what the 94 Calls to Action recommend in the Truth and Reconciliation report.
- You can browse these 94 prompts and their progress in this interactive gem from the CBC
- Indigenous delegates are also calling for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to be the framework for reconciliation
- Pope Francis demonstrated an understanding of these human rights, including free, prior and informed consent over Indigenous lands, while at the UN in 2017
- Lastly, here are the speeches from the 2008 apology by Canada including from all those tribal leaders, via C-SPAN.)
I was expecting some kind of advisory from the Department of the Interior on Friday announcing that it had, at the very least, concluded its seminal investigation into federal Indian boarding school policies here in the United States. Secretary Deb Haaland launched the review last June and
ordered the Bureau of Indian Affairs to deliver a report of its findings April 1, but so far crickets. So, don't be alarmed if there's more from me about these schools - what otherwise is hard stuff to write (and read) about. It takes a toll on the soul, I know.
Enjoy the day. It's spring! 🌸
Number of Indigenous delegates hosted by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops to the Holy See: 32
Approximate number of First Nation, Inuit, and Métis children forced to attend federal residential schools in Canada across a century: 150K
Percentage of schools operated by the Catholic Church: 60%
Total amount Canada spent to support a Truth and Reconciliation Commission beginning in 2007: $72M
Estimated number of residential-school survivors and witnesses who testified to the TRC: 6,500
Over the course of how many years: 6
Number of Calls to Action the TRC recommended: 94
Exact Call to Action number that requested an apology from the Pope on Turtle Island, Canada: 58
Number of years since Prime Minister Stephen Harper delivered an apology to residential school survivors: 14
Exact compensation paid to former students, Canada’s
largest settlement ever: $1.9B
Amount the Catholic Church has failed to compensate survivors as part its commitment to the settlement: $79M
Total years since the last federally-funded Indian residential school closed in Canada: 25
Number of Canadian provinces out of ten that do not recognize September 30 as a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a statutory holiday: 5
The Healing Storytelling of a Spotify Playlist
One Canadian deejay compiled a collection of songs about residential schools as an act of therapy
Even before unmarked
graves were reportedly discovered at Tk'emlups last summer, Bryan "DJ Boitano" Capistrano of Victoria, British Columbia was already feeling the weight of the residential school legacy in 2020. A white man of two young children, he felt compelled to take some kind of action though he didn't know what that was. A lover of music, he turned to social media and queried what songs, if any, addressed the hardships that these schools fostered.
He was surprised when several tracks were named and linked. A diligent DJ, Boitano blogged about it, and soon after, a friend compiled a Spotify playlist. The blog lends a more complete selection given copyright restrictions on Spotify, but the audio streaming provider offers a lyrics feature which is hard to beat because of the way it lets you sink into a rap from artists like Savage Mob:
You thought that we was dead,
let's talk about that
The future is red, the future is black
We back on the map and the lineup is stacked
The modern meets folksy in this list featuring decades-old renditions by Buffy Sainte-Marie and Johnny Cash. The timeline is a testament to how these truths have tried to be buried
over the years, but are just too powerful to ignore. Enjoy. 🎶
"The sled dog story was awesome. The way you compare and contrast is beautifully written.”
Lucky, Oklahoma City, OK
Thank you Lucky for these words and for your kind contribution. A good many of you were so generous with your
feedback and gifts in supporting Indigenously's original, in-depth feature story about the 50th Iditarod Sled Dog Race. It features the lived experiences of Alaska Native mushers, a story that you truly aren't finding anywhere else.
In case you missed it, you can find it here published on a new platform I'm test-driving this year. If for nothing else, browse the photographs of some of the first Native
racers (some of them look like total rockstars). More than anything, the piece is a tribute to these men (and one trans woman) who are too often overlooked, but shouldn't be.
Indigenous knowledge has never mattered more. Consider a contribution for as little or as much as you
can give. Dawaa'e ✨
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