‘Mixed emotions’ in crowd as Pope delivers Iqaluit speech

People had many different reasons for wanting to see the head of the Roman Catholic Church on his visit to Nunavut

Members of the crowd at Pope Francis’ address in Iqaluit on Friday hold signs that say “Rescind the Doctrine of Discovery.” (Photo by Madalyn Howitt)

By Madalyn Howitt

It was an evening of mixed emotions as Iqalummiut gathered outside Nakasuk Elementary School on Friday to watch Pope Francis make his final public appearance on his pilgrimage of penance across Canada. 

Cool temperatures and a light drizzle of rain greeted the crowd, as people slowly gathered in front of the school in the late afternoon to hear the Pope address the city. 

Simona Ukaliannuk was there with her family to support her grandmother, Therese Ilupaalik Ukaliannuk, who was one of the residential school survivors meeting with Pope Francis inside the school. The head of the Roman Catholic Church held a private meeting with Inuit who attended residential schools before speaking at a public event outside the school.

“Her speaking to the Pope is something she’s been looking forward to for a long time,” Simona said. “Hopefully it helps my grandmother to heal, to hear what he says. [I] hope it turns out OK, she was struggling a lot.”

Simona Ukaliannuk (centre) and her family attend the Pope’s public address in Iqaluit on Friday. Ukaliannuk said she was there to support her grandmother, one of the residential school survivors who met earlier with the Pope inside the school. (Photo by Madalyn Howitt)

Around 3:30 p.m., a group of teenagers played basketball on the court nearby, while volunteers with the papal visit, wearing blue jackets, wandered through the crowd handing out grey hats with mosquito netting and orange water bottles. 

Another volunteer offered headsets to anyone who needed translations in Inuktitut, English or French for the Pope’s speech, which was to be delivered in Spanish.

Some people in the crowd wore traditional Inuit clothing, while others donned orange T-shirts with Every Child Matters logos.  

Evie Kunuk, from Iqaluit, wore a white amauti with blue trim to the community event. She said it was “nice to see” people wear traditional clothing because it represents a culture that the residential school system tried to put down.

Kunuk said she has family members and friends who went to residential schools, many of whom developed mental health problems as a result of their experiences.

“Lots of alcohol, for sure. Drugs just to numb the pain,” she said.

She said she believed the Pope’s apology and his visit to Canada will help foster reconciliation.

“I believe, but some people won’t agree, him apologizing is a start toward healing.”

A crowd of approximately 1,000 people greeted Pope Francis outside Nakasuk Elementary School in Iqaluit on Friday, the final day of his “pilgramage of penance” visit to Canada. (Photo by David Venn)

The crowd of around 1,000 people waited patiently for Pope Francis’ arrival, which was running an hour behind schedule while he met with the survivors. 

When the Pontiff did finally take the stage just after 6 p.m., a smattering of cheers met him as he took his seat at the right side of the stage.  

A few shouts of “Welcome to Nunavut!” and “Thanks for coming, Pope” could be heard as the sounds of a video drone buzzed overhead. As Francis waved to the crowd, onlookers pulled out their phones, some taking selfies to commemorate the historic moment. 

Before Francis delivered his address, a series of cultural performances opened the official papal ceremony on the stage, which resembled a qammaq, an Inuit summer home made of whale ribs, sod and stone.

Opera singer Deantha Edmunds, from Nunatsiavut, performed several songs in Inuktitut and English, and throat singers Mary Anautalik and Lois Suluk-Lock gave a demonstration of Qiaqvaaq, an older form of throat singing.

Sisters Akinisie Sivuarapik and Emily Sallualluk, from Puvirnituq, performed Kattajaq throat singing, and group Huqqullaaqatigit performed traditional Inuit dancing and drumming. 

The loudest cheers were saved for elder Piita Irniq, who gave an Inuit drum to the Pope and thanked him for coming to Iqaluit. 

Piita Irniq, a residential school survivor, gives Pope Francis an Inuit drum he made. Irniq, 75, drum danced for the Pope during a show of Inuit culture during Francis’ visit to Iqaluit Friday. (Photo by David Venn)

As Pope Francis began his speech, a hush fell over the crowd. At the moment he apologized for the harms perpetrated against children at residential schools, some audible sighs and some muted cheers rippled through the crowd. 

The crowd began to thin about a third of the way through the Pope’s speech, which clocked in at over an hour. The Argentinian-born Pope spoke in his native Spanish, while two interpreters repeated the speech in Inuktitut and English.

Some people even left early to do their grocery shopping at the Northmart across the street from the stage, and the crowd was nearly gone mere minutes after the pontiff left the stage.

Afterward, onlookers said they felt mixed emotions about the Pope’s speech.

Lena Totalik, of Iqaluit, felt the apology was a “step forward” on the path toward reconciliation, but said she wants to see more counselling support for elders healing from residential school abuses. 

Alexina Kublu, from Iqaluit, said it was “encouraging” to hear the Pope address young people in his speech, but she wanted to make sure “parents and grandparents” are also remembered for all they lost in the residential school system. 

Tuqqaasi Nuqigek, from Iqaluit, said it’s important to “show up for apologies so that you know it’s happened and you can hold the apologists to account.” She said she appreciated that the Pope seemed to be taking his time with his speech, but she was more interested to know what actions toward reconciliation would be taken by the Catholic Church after Francis’ apology. 

Jonathan Park holds a sign demanding action for reconciliation at the Pope’s address in Iqaluit on Friday. His sign reads: “Reconciliation requires action not passiveness” — Murray Sinclair. (Photo by Madalyn Howitt)

About half a dozen people gave the Pope what they called “a gentle reminder” that reconciliation requires more than words.

“It’s a bag of mixed feelings, for a lot of reasons,” said Daniel Legacy, who lives in Iqaluit, describing the array of messages their signs conveyed.

Once Francis arrived on the stage in front of Nakasuk Elementary School, they held Bristol-board signs over their heads with messages that called on the Pope to rescind the Doctrine of Discovery, asking if the church’s $30-million pledge for healing programs was “a lie,” and showing that residential schools didn’t close in Chesterfield Inlet until 1969 and in Rankin Inlet until 1997.

“This is not historic. This was in our lifetime,” one sign said.

“These are messages the Pope should hear,” said Sandi Chan, who felt the Pope’s speech sounded like “he was giving advice, not an apology.”

“His speech felt like a mass rather than a penance,” Legacy said. 

“Nobody asked for a sermon,” said Jonathan Park, who held an orange sign with a quote attributed to Murray Sinclair, who was chairperson of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission: “Reconciliation requires action, not passiveness.”

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(24) Comments:

  1. Posted by Rusty Trombone on

    So glad to hear from the local malcontents. Of course there is always something to complain about, nice to know what it turned out to be this time.

    • Posted by Northerner on


      • Posted by local on

        Especially Rusty

  2. Posted by Cultural Crisis on

    There is certainly trauma and for some reconciliation will never be possible, but that doesn’t mean we are no on the way.
    The truth is that many also refuse reconciliation or its notions for cultural reasons. What identity remains when we are four generations away from victim hood? Will individuals need to take responsibility for their own decisions instead of perpetual blame on events of an increasingly bygone era? What will happen to the reconciliation industry, which sees more money per indigenous person invested than anywhere else in Canada? Many don’t want to see that fade and that easy money with zero accountability going to indigenous elites who control it.
    Who is left to apologize?

  3. Posted by Northern Guy on

    Ah yes the Doctrine of Discovery. A 15th century Papal Bull that has about as much relevance to modern society as the Magna Carta. How does rescinding an ancient relic with absolutely no legal standing resolve any of the issues at hand? That ship sailed almost 500 years ago … time to move on.

    • Posted by Post No Bull on

      People should look up the papal bull Regnans in Excelsis (1570), which excommunicated Queen Elizabeth I and (if it was of any effect) arguably invalidates the entire British monarchy and by extension our own political system here in Canada in 2022. I don’t think it has ever been rescinded.

      The English parliament subsequently banned the importation, posting or implementation of Papal Bulls.

      This was all a few years before Martin Frobisher’s expedition to these parts.

      So, I don’t see why anyone but a practising Catholic would care about some 500 year old papal fatwa, beyond being an interesting historical episode.

      • Posted by Northern Guy on

        Ad Extirpanda authorized the torture and burning at the stake of heretics. Dundam Ad Nostrum Audientiam forced all Jews living in Catholic cities into ghettos. The point being that both Papal Bulls are still on the books but there is not a single reasonable person who assumes for a minute that the Church still adheres to either practice.

  4. Posted by CB on

    I was mortified to see Natan Obed of ITK and Aluki Kotierk of NTI, among other dignitaries, leave well before His Holiness finished his speech. I think it was their dinner time.

    • Posted by Oliphant on

      Wow, how disrespectful considering they invited him.

      • Posted by bon voyage Monsieur Frances on

        As you may have noticed on TV later, they were at the airport hangar to bid him adieu.

    • Posted by Shameful on

      I suspect when they weren’t offered millions of dollars to beef up there salaries and charge accounts they got upset. Out of the respect for the survivors, they should have been their as support if nothing else. Shows they’re true character and motives. Shameful. Fight the battle tomorrow. Let that day be the day for survivors

    • Posted by L’ill Bill on

      Just shows their ignorance.

  5. Posted by Name Withheld on

    I must admit, I felt most humble to be fortunate to witness the apology in Iqaluit. Not many elders were as they have passed on.

    I was sadden to see the posters..But did anyone notice it was the younger generations that were holding them?

    That to me showed that the residential school survivals were there to listen after they had one on one meeting with the Pope inside.

    Much love to Pope Francis for coming to Nunavut!!!

    • Posted by No Moniker on

      It is interesting that the younger generation so often acts more aggrieved than their predecessors. They appear to have internalized victimhood, placing it at the center of their identity, while the world around them, especially through social media, encourages and amplifies these increasingly pathological and narcissistic fixations.

      • Posted by us and them on

        The interesting thing about colonials is that they will critique ‘their subjects’ and continue the oppression with such comments and further the us and them mentality, even centuries later.

        • Posted by No Moniker on

          Ignorance is the oppressor. If there is any truth to my observation then it is the opposite of oppressive, it is a first step toward liberation.

    • Posted by Uvanga on

      The protester weren’t even Inuit nor first nations. Did you also notice that majority of the people in front of the rope behind the survivors were non inuit and many Inuit were way in the back.

      • Posted by Plastic Tree on

        You might be right, but the picture of the person holding the sign ‘Rescind the Doctrine of Discovery’ above makes your argument difficult to believe.

      • Posted by @Uvanga on

        I witnessed non-Inuit shoving Inuit out of the way to get in the front. A couple people said something to them and they just gave them a dirty look, looked away or completely ignore them. Not a time or place to show your ignorance.

    • Posted by Ned Flanders on

      As a former student, I concur with your statement.

  6. Posted by Bell on

    How come mayor bell wasn’t front and centre? Wasn’t enough attention on him?

    • Posted by hermann kliest on

      Mayor is for mayor, nobody else, period…Let the PPL be damned.

  7. Posted by Tooma on

    Before Nunavut Inuit were looked after by the government before having own territory. Government over looking after the Inuit and taught the generation all the necessary skills. Now they live on Inuit traditional lands whether people being forced relocated or not rest of Nunavut communities should be taught these things. Elementary or high school where people were relocated etc.

  8. Posted by Word on

    This place is a bad place from these people. They may say forgiveness but they need to stop how they are today. Bad people. Criminals


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