For decades, trauma persisted in the indigenous Canadian community of Maskawasis. But some expect it to be shut down during a visit by Pope Francis to apologize for the Catholic Church’s role in a century of abuse.
The pontiff, who arrives in Canada next Sunday, will stop on Monday at the community of 19,000 residents, about 100 kilometers north of Edmonton (Alberta), to visit one of the state boarding schools run by the church, which admits children was. by force.
Many of those children who survived the abuse still live in cities such as Maskavasis where indigenous peoples from four different countries live.
“Hear some things that will help them get ahead in life,” said Randy Erminskin, head of the Maskavasis Cry community,
From the late 19th century to the 1990s, some 150,000 Inuit, Mestizo, or Native Americans (Dene, Mohawk, Ojibwe, Cree, Algonquin, etc.) were forcibly admitted to 139 boarding schools across the country. Cut off from their family, their language and their culture, they often faced all kinds of abuse.
Wilton Littlechild, who spent 14 years in several such centers, said, “The Pope’s apology will have huge consequences.”
These asylums mark a necessary stage, speculates this lawyer, who has always rebelled in favor of dialogue between the Canadian people and the country’s native peoples.
Littlechild, 78, told AFP: “After an apology, people can start to heal their wounds and come to the conclusion that – at least for some – there is finally some justice, and then you can go about reconciliation.” can talk.”
Even today, the indigenous population, which represents about 5% of Canada, continues to live in poverty while apartheid endures.
Relations between the Canadian state and indigenous peoples, known as “First Nations”, are governed by an 1876 law that created hundreds of indigenous reserves in the country.
In Maskavice, a plaque commemorates the Erminskn boarding school, which was opened in 1894 and is now destroyed. Before closing in 1976, it was one of the 139 state-run schools run by the Catholic Church across Canada, with approximately 150,000 Indigenous, Inuit and Métis children forced to attend as part of a failed assimilation policy. it was done.
The students were cut off from their families, their language and their culture. Many faced physical and sexual abuse from teachers and principals. Thousands are believed to have died from disease, neglect and malnutrition.
Canada has been dealing with this for years. But the discovery in recent months of the remains of hundreds of Indigenous children buried in unmarked graves at school sites has marked the reality of how the state and the Catholic Church have plagued them in the national consciousness.
Around the Maskawasis school, in the deserted alleys of a housing estate, stray dogs roam between abandoned tricycles and mattresses on sidewalks, in front of graffiti or burnt houses.
“We need a blessing, especially for young people. It’s tough here… There’s a lot of gangs and drugs,” says Connie Roan, who lives near a house with burnt roofs.
In front of her garden, this 67-year-old grandmother hopes Pope will “make a difference to the community.”
Alcoholism and high suicide rates plague these Aboriginal communities with boarding schools and a policy of assimilation, which has been recognized by the Canadian state as “cultural genocide”.
“I look forward to the Pope coming and pray, because everyone needs him. Not just us, but across Canada,” said 50-year-old Catholic Gilda Sousse.
With the head of the parish and a garland around his neck, Sousse says the visit is a “miracle” that will “help people heal.”
In a park, 22-year-old Cena Fryingpan is “excited” by this “once in a lifetime” trip.
However, for this young mother, “acceptance” of church responsibility “won’t change what happened.”
Brian Lee, 68, goes even further. He says that in this system he learned to “hatred his own people” and they told him that his “language was that of Satan.” He wants Francisco to support the study of languages that are slowly disappearing.
“I believe that if everyone from children to the elderly spoke our language again, our community would be better off,” he reflects.