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Catholic Schools Day focuses on reconciliation

By James Buchok


WINNIPEG — Manitoba’s Catholic schools dedicated Catholic Schools Day 2017 to The Call to Reconciliation, in response to Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation report that calls for schools to teach about the role of churches in residential schools.

Archbishop Murray Chatlain of Keewatin-Le Pas asked the audience of hundreds of educators to think of just one of the TRC’s 94 Calls to Action “that you can work on.”

The conference took place Feb. 17 at St. Mary’s Academy in Winnipeg and began with a smudge and drumming ceremony with a representative from each Manitoba Catholic school coming forward for smudging.

“The drum is an instrument of prayer,” said Chatlain, whose vast archdiocese covers northern Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario, and is home to 40,000 First Nations and Métis Catholics. But, he said, it was once illegal to participate in the Sun Dance, a drum ceremony that brings a community together to pray for healing. “Some priests burned the drum,” he said. “But a lot has changed in 30 years,” Chatlain said, recalling the historic visit of St. Pope John Paul II to Fort Simpson, N.W.T., in 1987.

Smudging is another way of “respecting and honouring indigenous spirituality,” Chatlain said, encouraging all to visit Winnipeg’s St. Kateri Tekakwitha Aboriginal Catholic Church for an in-person experience.

The TRC also calls for the pope to deliver an apology for past church abuses in residential schools. “In an Aboriginal community, family is everything and in that context they are looking for the church father to make an apology,” Chatlain said. He said the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has made such a request of Pope Francis but he doesn’t expect it will happen in 2017.

Chatlain said while it is vital that schools teach the true history of Aboriginals in Canada, adults remain ignorant of the subject. “We are working in seminary to include a component of understanding Aboriginal history,” and, he admitted, “I grew up knowing next to nothing about Aboriginal people. We need to address that in a positive way.”

“We’ll be stronger as a Catholic Church in Canada if we listen to each other,” Chatlain said. “Plan to be a part of this work of reconciliation.”

Rosella Kinoshameg, a member of the Canadian Catholic Aboriginal Council of the CCCB, is a former residential school student. She is Odawa/Ojibway from the Wikwemikong Unceded First Nation in Ontario and has been a nurse for 48 years in First Nations communities and serves on the board of directors of the Ottawa-based Canadian Indigenous Nurses Association.

“We went to church by boat and packed a lunch; in winter it was in a horse and wagon,” she said. “We respected the plants and animals and our elders.”

Then came the residential schools.

“We weren’t taught about our own people, we were forbidden to speak our own language.”

Two of her sisters were there too, but they were all separated. “It was to break the links with cultures and identity. They didn’t succeed. I didn’t see then, but it was a world dominated by fear and lack of affection.”

Kinoshameg said the experience was unleashed in intergenerational trauma, alcoholism and violence within families of those taken to the schools as children who later became parents.

She said healing will take “awareness, sensitivity, respect and listening. “ She said there is no indigenous word for reconciliation, “but there are many symbols and cultural practices to restore harmony and make peace.”

Kinoshameg said those who feel like victims “need to open the door of possibilities, not look back at that long, dark hallway. “

“Accept me as I am,” she said. “Respect my beliefs. Respect my sacred ceremonies. Respect my spirituality. Listen to my old stories of wisdom and love. Let us move forward with safety. Let us commit to walking together.”

Afternoon sessions dealt with: Truth and Reconciliation Archives, which are housed at the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba; Aboriginal Art and Symbolism; Integration of Indigenous and Catholic Spirituality; Participating in Aboriginal Traditional Rites; the Kairos Blanket Exercise; and a presentation on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women with Kyle Irvin, co-creator of the Aboriginal-owned Eagle Vision television and film production company.

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