Following Pope Francis’ departure from Maskwacis the Chiefs of the Maskwacis Four Nations, Frog Lake and Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation as well as the Grand Chief of the Confederacy of Treaty Six and Elders and survivors spoke in a press conference with their reactions to the Pope’s apology.
The Ermineskin residential school was one of the largest in Canada and on Monday July 25, the Pope visited the former site and Ermineskin graveyard to pray before making an apology infront of a crowd of thousands in Maskwa Park.
Chief of Ermineskin Cree Nation Randy Ermineskin said that he was emotional watching people who gathered Monday. Ermineskin and his brothers attended a residential school and he spoke on how at this monumental event it was important for him to be the voice of his brother and former classmates who have passed on because of the residential school system and persisting trauma.
“They left this world without telling their stories.”
Ermineskin said that in addition to truth and reconciliation, Monday was about hope.
“Him coming to apologize is historic, it’s important,” said Chief Vernon Saddleback of Samson Cree Nation.
“For me today with the Pope apologizing, today was a day for everyone in the world to sit back and listen.”
Saddleback says that he was grateful for the day and emphasized the importance of it to his people and the community.
“The apology that was made was validation,” said Chief of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation, Tony Alexis.
Chief Desmond Bull of Louis Bull stated that the trauma Indigenous people and the community endured and inherited from the residential school system is long lasting. He said that following the apology he expects it will take many some time to process their emotions as it opens old wounds.
Bull said that in order for true reconciliation Canadians need to support Indigenous peoples and survivors in their healing journey
“Please stop telling us to get over it … Instead of getting over it I’m asking you to get with it.”
He implores people to learn about Indigenous culture and history, to understand what survivors went through and the generational impact it has on their communities.
Grand Chief of the Treaty Six Confederacy George Arcand Jr. said that he sees the Pope’s apology as only the first step in making amends with Indigenous people, but that he has faith true action and reconciliation can be done.
Samson Cree Nation Elder and survivor Jon Crier said that he was six years old when he first started at a residential school.
“We were spiritually deprived, spiritually abused.”
Elder says that he accepts the Pope’s apology and that this is progress.
“We are now beginning to stand strong, to heal together.”
Ste. Anne’s residential school survivor and advocate Evelyn Korkmaz said, “I’ve waited 50 years for this apology and today I finally heard it.”
However, she says that while she is glad for the apology she wants to hear an actual plan of action from the Pope when it comes to the church moving forward with reconciliation — part of this includes releasing the documents held by the church in Rome.
“These documents have our history. These documents have where these lost souls were buried.”
While the Chiefs and survivors accept the apology, they are holding the church and Pope accountable to take action and continue the journey of reconciliation together.