Recently, I was asked what my thoughts were in regards to the Pope’s apology to the Indigenous Peoples of Canada. My response was “I don’t want to talk about it”.
I was raised by my grandparents in rural Alberta. My kokum (grandmother) was raised in a “tent” area of a rural Alberta town and she too spent more time with her grandmother. For as long as I can remember, my kokum was Catholic. She baptized all her children, she prayed with her rosaries every night, she would remind us that we would go to hell if we sinned, and she was the most loving and forgiving woman I have ever met. She wanted all her grandchildren to be baptized and we attended the Lac St Anne Pilgrimage every year. I walked into the healing waters of Lac St Anne with my kokum and family every year. It was during this time that I was introduced to confessionals and mass. I did not understand what the pilgrimage meant but I remember being in awe of the rows of crutches that adorned the mass shelter, the many candles that were light in prayer and watching people take communion. I still have a limited understanding of what these words mean, confessionals, communion, or how to pray with rosaries. What I do remember very well is my kokum’s faith and the comfort it brought her every night as I listened to her whispered prayers and watched her loving hands move slowly from bead to bead on her rosary.
I wasn’t baptized until I was an adult in ‘our’ church the Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples in Edmonton. I was baptized along with my children that day. This church was a special church. The pastor was there for many years building relationships with the urban Indigenous peoples and would be present every year at Lac St Anne. Father Jim buried many of my relations, baptized many of my relations, married many of my relations and was the one who said prayers for my kokum when she returned to the spirit world. Father Jim allowed us to be Indigenous within the pews of the church. He embraced our beliefs and shared his. It was a place where we did not have to shed our “indigenousness” to pray to creator and be blessed by Christ. I have never felt that same “welcomeness” in any other church that I have attended (including other denominations). Father Jim wore moccasins, he encouraged smudging, he knew how to connect to the spirits of our people in a way that honored who we were.
I knew when I was young that the church teachings were not enough for my spirit. My spirit longed for something and it took until I was an adult with children to realize what that was. I needed to be connected to my own Indigenous spirit to feel whole. As I continue to learn and connect with ceremony and the creator my spirit soars. I have a great respect for the church, because of my kokum. I saw her faith; I heard her prayers and felt the love she had for us all.
This apology brings up so many feelings and my mind and heart are overwhelmed. How long has it taken? I know the role the church played in attempting to destroy Indigenous families, I also know that God and Christ would not have wanted them to play that role. I welcome the conversation that occurred with the Pope, and I welcome him coming to Canada and dedicating himself to making it right. There is so much more to be done to heal the relationship between the churches and Indigenous peoples. I do hope the work continues so that I can look at my own rosaries, learn how to pray with them and not feel heartbroken but maybe find some peace like I saw on kokum’s face when she prayed. It will take me some time to process this, as well as many other Indigenous peoples; so, check in on your Indigenous family, friends, colleagues, and learners to see if they are ok, and not just ask what they think about what the Pope has said.
(photos from Sacred Heart Church of The First Peoples online pages)
Full text of Pope’s apology:
Accept or decline? Breaking down the Pope’s apology (APTN) :
Some Mental Health Resources :