Honourable senators, I thank the Canadian Senators Group for giving me space to speak today.
When I was in residential school, I began to disbelieve this Catholic God that the nuns and priests spoke of. How could a good and just God see me as a savage when he made me? When I went to confession at the age of 12, the priest asked if I let boys do bad things to me. I rarely entered the church after that and never went back to confession, thinking, “Why should I confess to another sinner?”
Over the decades, I didn’t believe I needed an apology, but, in listening to the words of the Pope on Friday, I was shocked when I burst into tears. Unexpectedly, it brought me peace and relief. Through this acknowledgment of past harms, people can finally accept that something life-changing and devastating happened to us at the hands of Church representatives. We are no longer burdened with the task of trying to convince others.
Do I forgive the Church? Not at this moment, and I’m okay with that. It took me 62 years to forgive the nun who had caused me immense and violent trauma at residential school. After going through a ceremony two months ago, I was finally able to let go of that violent energy I carried with me most of my life. I believe this is why I was able to embrace the Pope’s apology in the way that I did.
Now, I and other former students need the space to sit with his words, free from perspectives, dissecting it from a place of colonial thinking. In speaking to many former students, we are all at different stages of understanding the apology’s impact. There is discussion of whether it was needed and whether it is accepted. Despite our shared experience, we all have our own interpretations and lingering impacts.
I have had hate directed at me over my lifetime due to narratives thrust upon me simply because I am Cree. These narratives still exist in Canada today. However, I echo intergenerational Cree knowledge keeper Deborah Young, who states:
Despite all these atrocities and genocide that our people have endured and survived, my heart remains full of love and hopefulness because if I lose hope or love, there is nothing.
Kinanâskomitin. Thank you.