Pope's Comments on Residential Schools Get Mixed Reception in North

CBC News
April 29, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI 's expression of sorrow for the years of abuse Canadian aboriginal children faced at residential schools generated a mixed response from residents of Canada's North.

The pontiff's statement Wednesday had little meaning for John Banksland, a Northwest Territories-based board member with the National Residential School Survivor's Society, who said the Catholic Church has frequently denied incidents of abuse.

"There's a lot of shenanigans going on within the church, and I'd just as soon just sort of leave that alone," Banksland told CBC News.

"I'd just as soon say to myself, 'Well, if the prime minister of Canada can apologize to me, that's good enough for me.' I'll take that apology and I'm going to move on."

Banksland said it was more important to hear Prime Minister Stephen Harper offer an apology on behalf of the government of Canada in the House of Commons last year.

Inuit leader to plan similar meeting with Pope

The Pope made his remarks during a private audience at the Vatican with Canadian First Nations leaders, elders and residential school survivors, as well as Canadian representatives of the Catholic Church.

Canadian Inuit leaders were also in Rome for a public audience with Pope Benedict,but were not part of the private meeting held Wednesday.

Mary Simon, president of the national Inuit organization Inuit Tapiirit Kanatami, said she now wants to start planning a private meeting between the Pope and Inuit representatives.

"I think it's important for our Inuit survivors to have the opportunity to hear from the Pope, as the First Nations [delegation] have heard from the Pope today," Simon told CBC News from Rome.

'I wanted to forgive,' says former student

For Peter Irniq of Nunavut, a former residential school student who was part of the Inuit delegation, the trip to Rome took on personal meaning.

Irniq said he attended mass at St. Peter's Basilica, even though he has not been to church since 1979.

"I also wanted to make peace with the Roman Catholic Church," Irniq said.

"I wanted to have an opportunity to reflect [on] my own past, and I wanted to forgive."

'It's only words,' says Yukon MLA

In the Yukon, Independent MLA John Edzerza (McIntyre-Tahinki) said resources, not words, are needed to heal the damage done by residential schools.

"Well, big deal. What's an apology? It's only words," Edzerza told the territorial legislature on Tuesday.

Edzerza called on the government to direct more resources into helping former residential school students and families.

Money invested there could do more good overall than spending money on new hospitals or other facilities, he added.

Edzerza, a member of the Kwanlin Dun First Nation in Whitehorse, said apologies don't provide much comfort following the death of a friend of his who was a former residential school student.

"Another Kwanlin Dun First Nation member who was a victim of mission school passed away," he said.

"He was a very close friend of mine, somebody I really respected, probably one of the best artists that I know. He couldn't get over the mental health damage that the mission school did to him."

Banksland said he still has much healing to go through, as 16 years in residential schools have beaten his language and culture out of him.


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