Prairie Post (West Edition)

First Nations prepare mentally for Pope’s Alberta visit

- By Ry Clarke Alberta Newspaper Group

Pope Francis arrived in Canada this past Sunday for a week-long trip across Canada working towards reconcilia­tion and apologizin­g to Indigenous Peoples for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the operation of residentia­l schools.

Seven years after the Truth and Reconcilia­tion Commission of Canada’s Call to Action called on the Pope to issue an apology to survivors and their families, many Indigenous people are preparing for old wounds to re-surface.

Last Thursday, in a media address, Treaty 6 leaders and survivors spoke about the impact of the Papal visit and re-building as a people. Grand Chief Arcand Jr. spoke on the gravity of the visit.

“I believe this apology is a beginning, a way forward, for our people’s road to healing.“

Speaking about the stories he has heard from his people, Arcand Jr. believes this is a required stage to begin the healing process.

“This is a necessary step. Only through forgivenes­s can we build new bridges, and re-build our communitie­s.”

Chief Desmond Bull of the Louis Bull Tribe, also a day-school survivor, spoke on the effects this may have on the community and asking those in need to seek support and remember that the Indigenous community is there for those suffering.

“The Pope’s visit may mean something different to each person. It is an understate­ment to say there are mixed emotions about the Papal upcoming visit. I feel we need to be prepared for the fallout from these events. There must be enough mental health support and hotline resources available to help the thousands of people who will be dealing with the aftermath for the weeks, months, and years to come,” said Chief Bull.

“Our people should also look to ceremonies and medicinals to help heal. With the events the world is learning more of our history, we’re the subject of conversati­ons happening in homes across this country. I feel the attitudes are shifting and hearts are open to us as who we are as people. Remember that however these events may make you feel your feelings matter and you are not alone.‚“

Many health resources have been circulatin­g with the upcoming visit. The Hope for Wellness Help Line (hopeforwel­ or 1-855-242-3310) is providing immediate support to all Indigenous Peoples of Canada. Another resource is the National Residentia­l School Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419, providing culturally-grounded emotional support to survivors of residentia­l schools and their family members.

Chief Randy Ermineskin of the Ermineskin Cree Nation spoke towards the toll this will have on the community and his own mental health.

“I was getting anxious up until this time, because I thought, you know, I’ve been trying to help people be strong. But many times, you don’t look at ourselves and say, what can we do?” said Chief Ermineskin.

“So we had a chance, an opportunit­y, my wife and I, to sit with one profession­al. He just talked about, this is what your expectatio­ns are going to be, but don’t try and come up with solutions at that moment, wait a while. Because trauma, it can be a hard thing for many people and there’s cycles that people will go through, including ourselves as leaders, and how are we responding after this event occurs. We don’t want to hurt our own children, because that’s what happened with many of the survivors because they didn’y know how to cope.”

The Papal visit will be an opportunit­y to spark healing and foster strong bounds within the Indigenous community, which is a stepping stone to recovery and a necessity for reconcilia­tion.

Arriving in Edmonton on July 24, Pope Francis was to be in Alberta until July 27 when he departs for Quebec and then Iqaluit.

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