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Italian filmmaker Raphael Manco observed as many as 215 unmarked burial sites from Rome – possibly the remains of children – were found on First Nations land in Canada.
Last spring the terrifying news of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc in British Columbia made headlines around the world, a painful reminder that Canada’s residential school system was fatal to thousands of Indigenous children.
The revelations prompted a thorough search of pre-school sites, which have since unearthed more than 1,800 probable or unmarked graves across the country.
As he scoured article after article online, it even struck Manco so deeply that he decided to make a film.
“It was the last of many things that impressed me,” he said in Rome, his camera equipment being spread across the nearest table in a hotel not far from the Colosseum. “The consequences of colonialism are not in the past. It’s something that’s here today and it’s not considered enough.”
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Since the tragedy of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, the world has been watching the story of Canada’s reconciliation unfold.
Half a dozen international media outlets sent journalists to cover the historic delegation to Rome between March 28 and April 1, including Manco and his documentary film partner, Italian journalist Irene Sicurella.
Residential schools are a new topic for many Europeans, Securella explained, but a traveling indigenous delegation has brought the grim truth about them straight into their backyards.
“It’s weird for us because we work, like, 10 minutes from the Vatican,” she said, sitting next to Manco in a quiet hallway of the delegation’s hotel in Rome.
“The Catholic Church has been one of the main[institutions]so I think it’s right to ask some questions.”
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More than 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were imprisoned in residential schools, most of which were run by the federal government and the Catholic Church.
Under the care of priests and nuns, countless thousands suffered terrible physical, sexual and spiritual abuse. Many thousands also died from neglect, disease, malnutrition, and other causes, and the whereabouts of some of their remains are unknown.
However, residential schools are not an assimilation strategy unique to Canada.
Around the world, various boarding and day school models have been used by governments and missionaries to eradicate indigenous cultures. Over the past 400 years, such institutions have existed in the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, Greenland, and several countries in northern Europe where the Semitic people were forbidden from speaking their language.
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Between sunrise ceremonies, rehearsals and private audiences with Pope Francis, indigenous representatives in Rome said they knew survivors around the world would be looking for a ray of hope.
An Aquesne Mohawk spiritual adviser, Katshitshanny Fox, who was sent to Rome by the mother of his clan, said she hoped they could provide one.
“We’ve all gone through the same thing,” she told Global News. “You can talk to Aboriginal people in Australia and they will tell you they have the same stories that our relatives have, so hopefully this is a step in that direction to help them too.”
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After Pope Francis issued his controversial apology on April 1, Fox ended a livestreamed press conference from Rome with a haunting and beautiful tribute to the victims and survivors of residential schools, called A Song. sky World,
There are an estimated 370 million to 500 million indigenous people in more than 90 countries around the world. Countless of them seek compensation for centuries of land theft and abuse, but few have ever secured an audience with the Pope.
After the delegation, Phil Fontaine is joined by a small group of people who can say that he has done it twice. For those who still want justice, his message was “Obviously, don’t give up.”
“There is so much public attention to the plight of indigenous peoples around the world,” said Fontaine, a residential school survivor, in front of St Peter’s Square, where she met Pope Benedict in 2009.
“Of course, the 215 unmarked graves in Kamloops is a momentous moment as it shook the nation and put Canada in front of the world’s eyes.”
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After Métis representatives concluded their meeting with the pontiff on March 28, Edmonton-based cultural facilitator Gary Gagnon said his Native American friends were following the Canadian delegation “very closely”.
They will prepare for a meeting on April 1, he said, when Pope Francis addressed a general audience of more than 200 Canadian survivors, elders, enlightened people, leaders and youth.
To the voice of the Metis Fiddlers by St. Peter’s Square, Gagnon said, “I know there’s some commotion right now.” “They’re going to determine what they’re going to do after these meetings.”
The advances made in Rome by First Nations, Metis, and Inuit peoples have already attracted the attention of survivors in the United States. On April 1, when Pope Francis apologized for the “reprehensible conduct” of some members of the Catholic Church, the National Native American Boarding School Society immediately issued an online statement.
The Minneapolis-based organization called on the Catholic Church and other religious denominations to “turn to the atrocities committed on American soil” during the “Indian boarding school policy era”.
“While acknowledging harm in one country may not equate to mediocrity in another country, the move perpetuates harm against Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and other Indigenous survivors of boarding schools and their descendants,” it wrote.
“We look forward to hearing a response and more details from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops regarding their efforts to address the damage done here in the United States.”
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As did Canadian representatives, the coalition called on the Catholic Church and other religious organizations to release all records relating to assimilated institutions in America and to repeal the Doctrine of Discovery. It also called on churches to support the launch of a Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies.
Meanwhile, Manco and Securella are planning a reporting trip to Canada to collect material for the documentary. The story will be rooted in Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc but will also include First Nations in Alberta and Manitoba.
“I think we have a one-sided story about Canada and that being a country of tolerance and integration, where everyone is welcome,” Sicurella said in the middle of translating Manco’s comments into Italian.
“Plus our network has talked about Canada this way and only that way, so I don’t think many people know about that.”
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Manco, who has a history of filmmaking on human rights subjects, said his “passion” for the subject convinced his employer to fund the documentary. It will air this summer on the investigative news program of the national Italian television network PresaDiretta.
“I’m very impressed with all of this and how organized it was,” Sikurella said. “It was a huge human rights violation and should not happen again in the future.”
Residents of the residential school have asked to be directly involved in planning Pope Francis’ undated visit to Canada. The pontiff has not committed to apologizing on Canadian soil, but has said that he looks forward to being able to “better express” his closeness to indigenous peoples.
The Indian Residential School Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419) is available 24 hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience.
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