Nunavut MP Lori Idlout says she picked up on a change in tone between Pope Francis’ first speech and apology to Indigenous people in Maskwacis, and his final speech in Iqaluit during his visit to Canada.
“It really felt like he sincerely heard what he’s been told by Inuit, First Nations and Metis, because by the time he spoke in Iqaluit, he had a stronger sense of determination to tell the people that follow him that they need to really work with Indigenous peoples to make sure there is change,” said Idlout, who attended both speeches in person. “I heard that change in tone and I appreciated that very much. It makes me hopeful for what could possibly happen afterwards.”
She was also encouraged by something not part of the Pope’s speeches: his recognition of genocide against Indigenous people, which he acknowledged during questions from reporters on the plane trip back to Rome.
“It definitely grew my sense of hope,” said Idlout. “For him to admit that there was (genocide), it will have ripple effects all over the world.”
That impact was already felt, by the following Monday. Idlout said she was on a video conference call with a French MP who raised the Pope’s remarks about genocide, and called for the need for justice as a result.
“I think important decision makers all over the world have been given a spark” to pursue positive change, said Idlout.
The Pope’s decision to include Nunavut in his trip was vital according to Idlout, who added that Inuit can often be left out of conversations about Indigenous people in the country.
“I think that the Pope’s words understandably have a lot of weight, and because of that, there were high expectations,” she said when asked if his speeches were enough. “I know of people who feel like he didn’t go far enough, that some of the words he said were not enough, and I think it is important to acknowledge them and respect them and make sure that those people who felt like it was not enough are heard and get the support they need to make sure that they could feel like there’s actual reconciliation, there’s justice, there’s a path to move forward.”
For Idlout personally, she found his words momentous, because historically, Popes have not gone as far as he has in acknowledging the atrocities committed by the church.
“At the same time, he weaved in a sense of hope for the future, that he’s asked the institution that he’s the leader of to work with First Nations, Metis, Inuit. And I think that his request and his hope that the rest of the church follow his lead gives me a sense of hope that maybe we will see changes now that the Pope has said those words.”
Idlout agrees with calls to rescind the Doctrine of Discovery, a decree from more than 500 years ago that provided religious backing for Christian European monarchies to legitimize the colonization and evangelization of lands outside Europe.
She also supports and echoes the calls for Johannes Rivoire to be extradited to Canada so that alleged victims of the priest, who spent 30 years in Nunavut, can get justice.
Moving forward, Idlout wants to see resources provided to Indigenous people so they can continue to work toward regaining their sense of pride in themselves.
“What the churches and the governments did was steal our identity,” said Idlout. “It is important that we are able to regain a positive sense of our identity as First Nations, Inuit and Metis.”