'I really want him to feel the horror': B.C. chiefs, survivors react to news of forthcoming papal visit
Chief Harvey McLeod already knows what he would say to the Pope, if he ever had the chance to meet him.
"My first words would be, that 'while I was at that school, I talked to your God and told him to leave me alone,'" said McLeod, chief of the Upper Nicola Band and a survivor of the Kamloops Residential School.
McLeod, who has talked openly about suffering abuse, and about how the priests and nuns at the school tried to erase his identity, reacted to news that the pontiff planned to visit Canada, with a sense of relief.
"The church has finally heard," McLeod said.
For Chief Jen Thomas of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, whose father Stanley also survived residential schools, the announcement was a shock.
"Our survivors have been waiting for this and we just thought it wasn’t going to happen," Thomas said, calling her reaction "mixed."
The Vatican has not indicated whether Pope Francis plans to make a formal apology for the Catholic church’s role in running the majority of residential schools.
Those schools, including the Kamloops school, where the unmarked graves of about 215 children were discovered in May, forcibly took more than 150,000 Indigenous children from their families for over a century.
In a two sentence statement, the Vatican said the trip would be a journey "in the context of the long-standing pastoral process of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples."
It said the date would be "settled in due course."
Thomas and McLeod agreed that whenever the pontiff visits, and wherever he travels in Canada, they will expect more than words.
"I really want him to feel the horror and the anger that we all feel about how we were treated in these institutions," McLeod said.
"And he's not going to get that until he looks into the eye of a survivor and says 'yes, I hear you and I am I sincerely apologizing,'" he added.
"It’s the actions that we need to see," Thomas said.
"Is the pope apologizing for our survivors, or is he apologizing because he needs to do it for himself?" she questioned.
McLeod, who has talked about his personal journey from anger to forgiveness, said he hoped the visit would provide another opening to undo some of the long-lasting damage done to his family and his community by a system often referred to as cultural genocide.
"What can we do to correct? What can we do to move forward?" McLeod asked.
"In this country we’ve been talking reconciliation, and it’s so easy to use but at the same time so difficult to understand."
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