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Residential school survivors reflect on Papal apology

WARNING: This story contains details some readers may find distressing.

Two residential school survivors say the apology the Pope made in Maskwacis, Alta., During his recent penitential pilgrimage to Canada is just the beginning of a long healing journey.

Jennifer Wood from the Neyaashiinigmiing First Nation in Ontario says she would like to see the Roman Catholic Church work together with the Government of Canada in helping to heal Indigenous people.

Wood, a residential school survivor, says her mother, grandmother and five siblings all attended residential school.

Pope Francis arrives in Iqaluit on July 29, 2022, for the last leg of the papal visit to Canada. The quick, hours-long stop, before departing for Rome, marks the first time a pontiff has traveled to Nunavut. (Evan Mitsui / CBC)

Norman Charlie from the Stellat’en First Nation in Stellako, BC, says the Pope’s apology gave him the closure he was looking for.

Wood and Charlie traveled to Maskwacis, south of Edmonton, to hear the Pope’s apology in person. They spoke to Early Edition host Stephen Quinn on Friday.

The following transcript has been edited for clarity and length.

Jennifer, this has been an intense week for a lot of people. How are you doing?

I’m doing fine. We’re back from the event in Edmonton and everyone is feeling rather exhausted and wanting to get back to our lives and into some type of normalcy from hearing such a profound, impactful announcement by the Pope in Edmonton. But we are ready to look at solutions for our survivors.

Norman, did you find the Pope’s words as profound and impactful as Jennifer did?

I’ve been on the healing journey for 28 years and I’ve been sober for three or four years, so I accepted the apology for myself. But there are still other people that’s suffering out there.

Jennifer, what was it like being there in person to hear those words from the Pope? Can you describe the energy at the event?

The energy at the event, it felt very spiritual and it felt exciting. There was there was a moment of where there were feelings of calmness. But overall, in general, it was a very moving spiritual event for many reasons.

Give me one of those reasons.

One of the reasons, you had a number of elders present in the crowd and when I witnessed them crying and shedding tears, it brought a lot of feelings for me and I’m sure others in the crowd. The most moving piece of the event was when the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation brought in the memorial cloth of all the missing children that never made it back home. It’s a very long red cloth with over 4,000 names on it. You could have heard a pin drop when they walked into the arbor with that cloth because all our survivors knew exactly what that was.

Norman, did you feel differently after you heard the apology from the Pope?

For myself, I had peace. He didn’t talk about sexual abuse.

Did it take you back to that time?

On some parts, yeah, but I was there to let go. I’ve been dealing with this all my life and at some point at my age, I have to let it go. I don’t want to take it to the grave with me.

And did this help you do that, Norman?

Yes, it did. Like I said, it’s the end of that chapter in my life.

Jennifer, what do you think ought to happen next?

What I believe should happen next is that the government should start implementing a permanent program in Canada, addressing abandonment and trauma. When people are taken at an early age, they’re without parents, they’re without their culture, they’re without their identity. These are some realistic things that we have to start discussing. If it’s true reconciliation, then they will definitely start putting some monetary funding toward housing, addictions, mental illness, suicide.

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools or by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

Mental health counseling and crisis support is also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the Hope for Wellness hotline at 1-855-242-3310 or by online chat at

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