WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
Residential school survivors like Peter Gardippi say they have mixed feelings about Pope Francis’s impending visit to Canada.
They’ll welcome an apology, but say that’s not nearly enough to atone for the generations of physical, sexual, emotional and cultural abuse suffered in Canada’s residential schools, most of them run by the Catholic Church.
They hope Francis’s visit will lead to compensation, full disclosure of records and promises to renounce a 500-year-old Doctrine of Discovery long used by the church to justify its subjugation and colonization of Indigenous people.
No timeline, locations or other details on the visit announced Wednesday by the Vatican have been released.
The announcement follows the discovery of hundreds of unmarked burial sites near residential schools at the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation in British Columbia, the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan and elsewhere.
It also follows a CBC News investigation which raised questions about all three elements of the Catholic Church’s claims of compensation.
Catholic bishops recently issued an apology and pledged to restart their failed fundraising campaign with a goal of $30 million.
Gardippi is a member of the Beardy’s and Okemasis’ Cree Nation in central Saskatchewan. He’s also part of the Saskatoon Survivors’ Circle, a peer network that visits schools and other institutions.
Gardippi spoke Wednesday afternoon with the CBC’s Jason Warick. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Warick: You’re a survivor. What would you like to say about that experience?
Gardippi: I went to St. Michael’s Indian Residential School from 1955 to 1963.
My experience at residential school was not the best. I was there for eight years.
I always remember the first day that the priest picked me up at my home community. I didn’t know who the priest was. I got picked up by this priest and was taken away to to the residential school.
I didn’t understand English at all. All we talked was Cree at home. The first day that I was in school, I got a severe strapping from from the nun because I couldn’t understand what she was talking about. So it wasn’t the best.
I experienced a lot of loneliness and pain. And I just didn’t understand the what they were trying to do to us.
Given that experience, how do you feel about the news Pope Francis will be coming to Canada?
It’s good news for survivors like myself because we’ve been asking for him to come to us, to see us survivors and to come and talk to us, and to apologize to us. But not only apologize to us — to work with us, to restore a lot of the damage that the Catholic Church has done.
They didn’t want us to talk our language. The only way I was able to keep my language was my mom always told us to talk our language at home.
I was such a beaten-down kid at school. I had to go to the old people to restore me back to health.
Today it’s a different story. I know all about myself and our rich tradition of being a First Nation.
They tried to beat that out of us. They tried to beat the Indian out of the Indian, and the Pope has to come in and apologize. They thought they were a lot better than us and we didn’t know anything.
It sounds like you’re looking for much more than an apology.
So many people want to apologize and they’re just words to me. They’re just words that have absolutely no meaning.
Work with us to restore the language. Work with us by saying, “Yes, we will work with you to restore the damage that’s been done.”
It was a great, great mistake that they made. And mistakes, you can fix mistakes, right? He’s got to have that commitment.
All of those promises not kept by the church — they use really great lawyers to get them out of their responsibilities. Let’s be truthful. Help us rebuild.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
I would love to sit down with the Pope and, you know, maybe bring him to our sweat lodge, sit with us in our sweat lodge and pray with us and sing with us in our sweat lodge.
I would love to see that day where he sits down with us in our lodge and prays with us.
Support is available for anyone affected by the lingering effects of residential school and those who are triggered by the latest reports.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for residential school survivors and others affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.