After years of heartache, Paqtnkek said it is ready to move forward

    PAQTNKEK: The Chief of Paqtnkek Mi’kmaw Nation says an apology from Pope Francis is a good first step, even if it doesn’t make up for the years of suffering his people endured in the Canadian residential school system.

    “The mistreatment of our people in residential schools, which were led by numerous spiritual organizations, most notably the Catholic church, has been known for many years,” Chief Tma Francis said. “And this apology from Pope Francis is a true step in the right direction in reconciliation.”

    While the Paqtnkek Mi’kmaw Nation council and Chief have heard Pope Francis’ apology, they are really looking forward to his visit on July 26 to Canada, which falls around the Feast of St. Anne.

    “Over the past couple centuries, our people faced tremendous hardships and the transition from our traditional ways into the European ideals had separated us from all we knew,” Francis said. “Residential schools took away an entire generation of traditional teachings from our ancestors which has led to numerous issues that we still face today.”

    As details are being released from the meetings held at the Vatican, the apology came on the final day of a week-long visit to the Vatican by 32 Indigenous Elders, Knowledge Keepers, residential school survivors and youth from across Canada, who had private meetings with Pope Francis about their cultures and their experiences of abuse by the Roman Catholic church in its role within Canada’s residential school system.

    Pope Francis suggested listening to their voices and the stories of the suffering, hardship, discrimination, and various forms of abuse that some of them experienced, particularly in the residential schools, was chilling. He also reflected on the determined efforts to instill a sense of inferiority, to rob people of their cultural identity, to sever their roots, and to consider all the personal and social effects that continue to this day.

    “I feel shame, sorrow and shame, for the role that a number of Catholics, particularly those with educational responsibilities, have had in all these things that wounded you, in the abuses you suffered and in the lack of respect shown for your identity, your culture and even your spiritual values,” Pope Francis said. “All these things are contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For the deplorable conduct of those members of the Catholic church, I ask for God’s forgiveness and I want to say to you with all my heart: I am very sorry.”

    Since the landing of non-Indigenous settlers, the Pope said some Indigenous people across North America developed relationships with the church that initially built trust and friendships. However, Francis said as non-Indigenous civilization began to grow, so did their ideals and practices taking away from the traditional ways of the Indigenous people across Canada, which eventually led to the development of reservations and residential schools that isolated the First Nations, Inuit, and Metis people throughout the Canada.

    While Paqtnkek Mi’kmaw Nation said it was a dark time in their history, the announcement shows that the Catholic church is willing to take responsibility for their actions.

    Darryl McDonald, Paqtnkek’s director of administration, explained this was a historic day not only in their community but for every Indigenous community across Canada.

    “We truly believe that as we all work together in the truth and reconciliation of our First Nations people across Canada, we will all benefit,” McDonald said. “We need to face the past to look forward into the future. The future looks bright and full of opportunity to work together and recognize the mistakes made in the past, learn from them and work together moving forward.”