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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Triggered (again)

BY Maïtée Labrecque-Saganash Apr 25, 2022

I’ve grown to be quite protective of the dignity of residential school survivors in my family.

I knew the Vatican visit would be harmful to some extent, even if I respect that it was important for some survivors. I don’t want to make trivial comments, because it’s a complex situation that stems from colonial violence that made our interpersonal relationships, well, complex.

My dad, my siblings and I have just started to figure out healing as a family, and I am thrilled to see my father embrace his right to joy after the hardships he faced in La Tuque Residential School. I am happy that he is taking care of himself and prioritizing his mental integrity over work. 

I was hoping he would get a break from constantly being retraumatized, especially after last summer, and after having to frequently comment on his own decade-long experience in the Indian Residential School system during his years as a Member of Parliament. I cannot describe the grief and anger I’ve felt watching the news coverage on the Pope’s “apology”, because once again my relatives were unnecessarily triggered just for a carefully worded address by his Holiness.

“I feel shame – sorrow and shame – for the role that a number of Catholics, particularly those with educational responsibilities, have had in all these things that wounded you.”

Two things with this statement. The first one being the denial of the systemic role of the Catholic Church in the implementation of Canada’s colonial policies. The second fallacious point that irked me was the so-called “educational responsibilities” of the “few bad apples” Pope Francis describes. 

It was never about education. As a matter of fact, children would have school lessons the first half of the day, then they would work the other half to save on maintenance costs. In Quebec, most survivors also had to do equivalences after residential school because the Indian Affairs curriculum was not rigorous enough, one of the reasons being that the government assumed that Indigenous children were not as intelligent as non-Indigenous children.

I knew the Pope’s response to our display of trauma would be insincere. That’s why I personally didn’t see the point of going there in the first place. In the past, many chiefs, including two of our former Grand Chiefs, met with the Vatican without any result. 

I think my father, my uncles and aunts deserved far more than those words. My Uncle John, who never came back from Horden Hall Residential School, certainly deserves more than those words. I had hoped for a better path to justice for them, one where no one would have felt robbed of their dignity, although I understand many survivors were satisfied with the Pope’s address. 

But deep down, words cannot compensate for the loss and trauma.

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Maïtée Labrecque-Saganash is Cree from Waswanipi, and is the Nation’s newest columnist. She is an activist and writer who also has a regular column in Montreal’s French Metro Newspaper.