Tea and healing: Mental health support offered during Pope’s Iqaluit visit
Pauktuutit president Gerri Sharpe says papal visit is not the end but a beginning for healing, reconciliation
Mental health support and cultural services during Pope Francis’ visit to Iqaluit on Friday are being provided by Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada and the Qajuqturvik Community Food Centre.
“Many Inuit have been impacted by not only residential schools but also by the church itself, and we know that the apology and the Pope’s visit is going to reopen and re-traumatize people,” Pauktuutit president Gerri Sharpe told Nunatsiaq News.
“Counselling services will be available and cultural services will be available that will help ensure people are headed on their healing journey in a good way.”
The support will be available from Thursday through Saturday. Along with counselling, there will be shared drumming, throat singing, sealskin cleaning, qulliq making and storytelling.
According to Sharpe, these activities are a way of focusing on the healing needed by residential school survivors and their families by providing a space to celebrate Inuit culture.
“That is how Inuit work through things: by being together and laughing and enjoying the company of everybody else, so that we move forward in a good way,” she said.
Pauktuutit has partnered with Iqaluit-based non-profit Qaggiavuut to provide the support. Sharpe said it was important to make sure help is available to survivors and families before, during and after the Pope’s visit.
“The pre-care, the care during the visit, and the aftercare are going to be key to make sure that reconciliation starts in a good way — so that once the Pope is gone, that the wounds are not left gaping open and that pain magnified,” she said.
The Qajuqturvik Community Food Centre will also provide an opportunity for Inuit in the city to come together for tea and healing following the papal visit.
The session will be open from 1 to 5 p.m. on Friday and those attending will be able to speak with and seek support from Iqaluit mental health staff.
Pope Francis’s stop in the city is the last in his week-long visit through Canada to address the Catholic Church’s role in the residential school system and the harm experienced by Indigenous survivors.
An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were removed from their families and communities from the mid-1800s through the 1990s and sent to residential schools and day schools, the majority of which were run by the Catholic Church. Many children suffered abuse there at the hands of Catholic clergy.
“What has been getting lost in the Pope’s visit is the residential school survivors — our parents, ourselves and our grandparents,” Sharpe said. “We need to keep the focus on survivors.”
“This is not about the Pope and the words that he’s speaking. In order to move forward, we need to make sure that we focus on us.”