Newsmaker of 2022: The residential school survivors

They sought an audience with Pope Francis and got an apology heard around the world

Martha Aupaluktuq-Hickes, left with green hat, and her mother Nancy Aupaluktuq, right, listen to Pope Francis during his visit to Iqaluit on July 29. Seven of Nancy’s eight children, including Martha, are survivors of Canada’s residential school system (Photo by Corey Larocque)

By Randi Beers

In search of a reckoning more than 100 years in the making, a group of Inuit, in lockstep with residential school survivors and Indigenous leaders from across Canada, knocked on the Vatican’s door.

It was March, and the group was in Rome asking for a formal apology from Pope Francis for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in abuses perpetrated in Canada’s residential schools.

Drum dancer Noah Kudlak from the performance group Huqqullaaqatigiit dances close to Pope Francis in front of Nakasuk Elementary School in Iqaluit on July 29. (Photo by David Venn)

The residential school system, for anybody who needs a reminder, was a network of church-run boarding schools funded by the Canadian government in an effort to eradicate Indigenous culture. Many of the schools were operated by the Catholic Church.

They were a tool to separate children from their families, their language and their culture.

The final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which collected stories from residential school survivors, is filled with first-hand accounts of physical and sexual abuse, forced labour and other atrocities.

Some 150,000 children were sent away to the schools and the impact of this still reverberates today.

Part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s work was to produce a number of calls to action. It’s a to-do list along the path toward reconciliation that ranges from calls for systemic changes at the highest levels down to individual responsibilities for the general population.

Call to action No. 58 is for the Pope. It calls on the leader of the Roman Catholic Church to apologize for its role in the “spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical abuse of First Nations, Inuit and Metis children in Catholic-run residential schools.”

The TRC’s calls to action were published in 2015. After seven years of silence from the Vatican, the Indigenous delegation from Canada came knocking.

Pope Francis offered his apology on April 1.

He followed up with a trip to Canada, where he met with residential school survivors in Edmonton, Quebec City and Iqaluit, and invited the public to hear him apologize again on Canadian soil.

The world’s eyes were on Iqaluit on July 29, when Pope Francis met privately with 100 survivors and then spoke onstage to a crowd of more than 1,000 at Nakasuk Elementary School.

“I think he said that apology directly from his heart,” said Paul Quassa, after the private meeting.

Many others that day agreed the apology marked a step toward healing.

Many Inuit tuned into the Iqaluit appearance from other Nunavut communities, including Cathy Towtongie, from Rankin Inlet.

Several people listening to Pope Francis speak in Iqaluit in July held signs urging him to rescind the Catholic Church’s nearly 500-year-old Doctrine of Discovery, blamed for helping lead to colonization and slavery around the world. (Photo by Corey Larocque)

She told Nunatsiaq News the speech brought up a lot of pain from her experiences at the schools, and she had to be gentle with herself that day.

“My body was feeling the impact of being a residential school survivor,” she said at the time.

Some were not willing to accept the Pope’s words at face value.

Jonathan Park showed up to the event with an orange sign bearing the words “Reconciliation requires action, not passiveness.”

“Nobody asked for a sermon,” he told Nunatsiaq News of the Pope’s speech that day

It’s clear the Pope’s apology landed differently in the heart of each and every person affected by the legacy of residential schools.

For some, there is no word or deed that can undo what’s done, and this fact sits at the heart of reconciliation.

We can’t change the past, but we can decide what happens next.

That’s what happened in March, when the delegation from Canada went to Rome to demand an audience with Pope Francis.

The Catholic Church has been around for some 2,000 years, but it’s only been in the past 30 that its leadership has publicly acknowledged and started to grapple with the dark aspects of its legacy.

We are witnessing a sea change in this ancient and immensely powerful institution, partly driven by residential school survivors, which in turn serves as a reminder to the rest of Canada about how we must confront our own legacy.

That’s why they are this year’s newsmaker of the year.

Share This Story

(7) Comments:

  1. Posted by Do better in 2023 on

    This is relentless activist propaganda. Hopefully in 2023 the news media and the activists groups can focus on the real problems of Nunavut, the ones of today that they could actually do something about. That’s the only way you can convince us that you actually care about the children.

    Who is actually abusing children today in Nunavut? You know who is doing it, now get to work exposing them and stopping it.

    • Posted by iThink on

      I’m as critical of the ‘activist’ class as anyone, but this comment seems reactive and detached from reality to me.

      You say it is propaganda. Can you give even one example of that?

      Also, the diversion to “what is happening today” is such a red herring. It’s possible to understand both past and present abuses as injustices. To suggest a focus on one is a neglect of the other is simplistic non-sense.

    • Posted by Weird flex on

      If you want to grow as a person ask yourself why this story made you feel so uncomfortable. Lashing out at it as propaganda really says “I don’t want it to be true!”

  2. Posted by We can do better on

    We have received our apology from the pope , and it is good.
    Why should we expect any more apologies from the churches or government when our
    own indigenous leaders are too afraid to go after indigenous sexual offenders ?
    Let us start this immediately . If NTI can go on joy rides to Europe, and ITK can change the
    names of football teams, it proves they have a lot of money to compensate native people !
    Reconciliation works both ways as we are always saying but we have to do our part also.

  3. Posted by Way on

    When people needed residential housing they got residential schooling.
    Google the word “loohcs”.
    Thumbs down to public housing.

    • Posted by Okay! on

      “User Submitted Meanings
      4 submissions from Tanzania, United Republic of and the United States agree the name Loohcs means “Cancer” and is of American origin.
      3 people from all over the world agree the name Loohcs is of American origin and means “School”.
      According to 2 people from Philippines and the United States, the name Loohcs is of African origin and means “Hell”.
      According to a user from Alabama, U.S., the name Loohcs means “Demotivated”.
      A user from Mexico says the name Loohcs is of Mexican origin and means “The most beautiful flower in my garden”.
      A user from Georgia, U.S. says the name Loohcs means “Suck at every thing”.
      A submission from Puerto Rico says the name Loohcs means “Loohcs is latin for in waiting”.”

Join the Conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *