Between July 24 and 29, Pope Francis, the leader of the Catholic Chruch will be visiting Canada, making stops in Quebec City, Edmonton and Iqaluit. The visit is largely centred around reconciling the Church with First Nations, Metis and Inuit, in light of mass graves of children being found at Canada’s numerous residential schools.
Nunavut Premier P.J. Akeeagok said the visit is important for Nunavummiut, particularly survivors who are still reeling from the horrors of residential school. Which has resulted in various issues for Inuit families in Nunavut, including addiction, chronic health problems and cycles of physical and sexual abuse, which originated from educators at residential schools.
“I’m really optimistic for the healing journey to start happening for the people who really need to be a part of this process,” said Akeeagok.
“We’ve all seen and we all know the devastation residential schools have played on Nunavummiut.”
On April 1 the Pope said he was “very sorry” for the Church’s role in Canada’s residential school system, asking for “God’s forgiveness”, saying he felt “sorrow and shame” for the role Catholics, and particularly Catholic educators played in harming and abusing Indigenous people.
A full, sincere apology for residential schools hasn’t been explicitly mentioned for the visit, but it is expected to happen, with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission explicitly mentioning an apology from the Pope in its calls to action.
“We don’t know if the Pope will officially apologize, there’s indications he will so we’re optimistic there. We’ve all been impacted (by residential schools) and we’re seeing those impacts in our communities. A lot of the work we do now as a government is to address those impacts. I really feel like that would be a first step, an acknowledgement and apology, - obviously it’s up to the individuals to hear the apology,”
The role the Government of Nunavut will be playing in the Pope’s visit to Iqaluit will be a supportive one, said Akeeagok.
“I’ve reached out to survivors just to hear their thoughts, just to hear the impact residential schools had and what possible expectations they might have,and it’s been very powerful in the sense that the visit is really going to put a spotlight not only on Nunavut, but to Inuit Nunangat and the impact its had, more so the resilience Inuit have,” he said.
The Premier highlighted how important it is for Inuit survivors to show that their language is still alive, something that hasn’t been the case for many other Indigenous peoples in Canada.
“They (survivors) really stressed the importance of how strong our culture still is and how strong our language still is. Those were the two areas the systemic process tried eliminating.”
“The cultural component - should be front and centre from the minute the Pope arrives to Nunavut, to the minute he’s leaving Nunavut. That should be at centre-stage.”
This also presents an opportunity for Nunavut as a territory to move forward, the Premier said, and to show the world that Inuit Nunangat is still going strong despite attempts to eliminate its culture.
“We can’t lose sight of how strong we are and how proud we are as a people. If anything I very much look forward to meeting directly with the survivors myself for when they do come here to hear the stories firsthand, but really where we go from here.”
”We can’t change our history, but we can change our future and I think these stories are what’s going to capture where we go as a territory,” Akeeagok said.