By Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News
Two leaders and friends spoke together about truth, reconciliation, and walking with one’s neighbour at a diocesan adult faith Encounter event held April 28, 2022 at the Cathedral of the Holy Family.
Chief Cadmus Delorme of Cowessess First Nation and Archbishop Donald Bolen of the Catholic Archdiocese of Regina have been walking together for some time now – including through the work of ground-penetrating radar and finding 751 hits near a former Catholic-run residential school on Cowesses First Nation last summer.
“It took the validation of unmarked graves that put us in this moment,” said Delorme at the “Walking With Your Neighbour” Dessert Night event, describing how the discoveries of unmarked graves has led to millions of Canadians putting down their “shields” and admitting they did not know the truth about Indigenous Peoples and Canada.
“We are truly at a moment where all of us – Indigenous and not – must all reset our compass just a little bit – because our children and children yet unborn depend upon this moment. We could look the other way and stay with the status quo … but the status quo doesn’t work,” said Delorme.
Both leaders brought insights and suggestions for “Walking With Your Neighbour” to the 250-plus who gathered at the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Saskatoon for dessert and inspiration.
“We need to find ways to work together and we need to build relationships as we do that. So much is dependent on relationship,” stressed Archbishop Donald Bolen, who recently accompanied the Indigenous delegation from Canada that met with Pope Francis in Rome and heard the Holy Father’s April 1 apology to Indigenous Peoples.
The Dessert Night program began with a welcome by Saskatoon Bishop Mark Hagemoen and words of thanks and appreciation for both speakers, as well as for event organizer Marilyn Jackson, diocesan Director of Ministry Services.
Hagemoen also noted the “outpouring of emotion and grief” that has followed revelations of unmarked graves, and recalled words he heard at the conclusion of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s work in Ottawa in 2015: “we are only just beginning.”
Elders and leaders from Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish — which serves Indigenous, Métis and non-Indigenous parishioners in Saskatoon – led prayer in the six directions, and gifts were presented to the two speakers.
Archbishop Donald Bolen
In his presentation, Bolen stressed the importance of finding a new way of walking together, and coming to a new understanding of the truth of Canadian history.
“The conversation starts to open up between the Church and Indigenous Peoples when we acknowledge the profound suffering, the waves of suffering that so many Indigenous Peoples have experienced in the context of residential schools, and more broadly in the context of the Indian Act and colonization,” said Bolen. “We need to acknowledge our responsibility as Church for our involvement in these schools, that took away language and culture and spirituality and suppressed so many good things.”
He pointed to the direct line from that history to the inter-generational trauma that many Indigenous individuals, families and communities carry, urging his listeners to acknowledge and understand the connection between the many challenges that Indigenous Peoples face today and the legacy of residential schools and colonization.
“When we look at our society today and look at societal indicators of well-being, we see the systemic injustice that is still part of our society, that still creates waves of suffering,” he said. “We see the inequalities in access to education and health, the levels of poverty. We see the inter-generational trauma and its effects when we look at the incarceration rates… we need to see that direct line to the causes of that trauma and we need to be actively taking responsibility.”
This includes the step of apologies – including the recent apology by Pope Francis, and waiting for him to come to this land to apologize, said Bolen, but also “when we as non-Indigenous people talk to survivors, and hear them tell their stories, when we hear those experiences of deep trauma… we need to engage in that apology ourselves.” More importantly will be the question of “what happens the day after the apology,” said Bolen, citing words of Chief Cadmus Delorme.
“That is where we need to take new steps. That is where we need to take our remorse, our solidarity, and take tangible steps. And that is where we need to enter into a dialogue with survivors; that is where we need to ask them for direction; that is where we need to enter into dialogue with elders, with leaders in the Indigenous community, with youth – we need to say ‘How can we walk together?’”
When it comes to “doing something about it,” Bolen stressed that it is everyone’s responsibility to listen, to be actively engaged and to take concrete steps. “It is our responsibility to carry that past and move toward the future and to become allies with Indigenous Peoples in their rightful pursuit of justice.”
Bolen urged the gathering to continue to do the important work of listening, learning and action – including through such events as presentations by Lyndon Linklater of the Office of the Treaty Commissioner, the Kairos Blanket exercise, treaty education and acknowledgement, and reading the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Final Report and Calls to Action. He also pointed to the Indigenous Pastoral and Lay Leader Education Program that has been launched in the diocese of Saskatoon for deepening understanding and “learning our history in a new way.”
“We need to stand behind the inherent rights of Indigenous people that were given by the Creator,” added Bolen. “We need to stand solidly behind the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples when it talks about Indigenous rights to self-government, to education, to land rights – a whole lot of rights.”
Acknowledging the error and damage of the Church’s participation in the suppression of Indigenous language and spirituality, Bolen emphasized the need to support Indigenous Peoples in their efforts to reclaim and strengthen the Indigenous languages that hold culture, teachings and tradition, and to profoundly respect Indigenous spirituality and traditions as “invitations to encounter the Creator in a beautiful way.“
Bolen’s final suggestion for a step to take on the walk with Indigenous Peoples involved the upcoming visit of Pope Francis to Canada.
“Accompanying the delegation in Rome, it was a powerful thing to see the profound impact on survivors and on delegates when they had the chance to speak directly to Pope Frances and for him to listen — that engagement and that encounter was very deep and transformational,” he said. “But many survivors who I’ve been talking to, who watched it, or watched media reporting about it – they did not have that profound experience and found it a difficult week, a week of real, inner tumult.”
When Pope Francis comes to Canada there is an opportunity for “working together with Indigenous communities to bring as many survivors as we can to wherever he comes, for finding ways for those Indigenous Peoples who can’t go – to create spaces of encounter,” said Bolen, suggesting that perhaps communities could invite and welcome their First Nations neighbours to a meal to view events together on a large screen. “We need to find ways to actively engage and to make the Pope’s visit as powerful as possible.”
Chief Cadmus Delorme
“Let’s put our shields down and have an uncomfortable conversation,” said Chief Cadmus Delorme, beginning his presentation with the advice he heard from an Elder at First Nations University of Canada: “Show people your heart before you ask for their hand.”
Demonstrating “Indigenous ideology at its finest,” always grounded in relationship, Delorme shared stories about his mother’s support for her Grade 5 son at a track and field meet, of his five-year-old daughter’s hopes and aspirations, and of the impact of residential schools in disrupting the “vertical lineage” of family relationships.
“We inherited this. Nobody in the room created residential schools. Nobody in this room created the Indian Act. Nobody in this room created the Sixties Scoop. … But we inherited it. And when you inherit something, you have to do something about it,” he said, noting how in the summer of 2021, as Chief, he was called upon to be a spokesperson for his Cowessess nation during the revelation of as many as 751 unmarked graves. “And I have to explain to my community, to survivors, to my community, to this province, this country, and even to the international community that wanted to know… our validation of unmarked graves,” he said.
“For Indigenous People it is validation of the pain, the frustration, the anger, the tiredness of trying to remain Indigenous in a country that is still somewhat oppressive.” This moment is also a call to move forward, to finally get beyond the “status quo,” he said.
“Truth and reconciliation is a term we use … we cannot move to reconciliation until we first acknowledge and know the truth. And then we get to reconciliation. Reconciliation is going to come with a lot of uncomfortable conversations.”
Decolonization is going to be an even more daunting process than colonization was, he said, and no one is certain what is on the other side of that process. “We don’t know, but we know we have to get there, because we share this land collectively, and that is what is so important right now.”
“I want to talk about truth. Why is it that it took unmarked graves for many Canadians to finally put their shield down and admit that they want to know more about Indigenous Peoples in Canada?” he challenged. “In this Country – a G7 Country, a developed country, a country with a Charter of Rights and Freedoms that guarantees vertical lineage in families… something was missed.”
Delorme pointed to an education system that has only recently started teaching about Indigenous Peoples and the history of Canada.
The “Baby Boomer” generation that includes elders and knowledge keepers learned nothing about Indigenous Peoples through the education system, he said. “Residential schools were at an all-time high. The Indian Act, the Pass System were at an all time-high,” but none of that was part of their education — all that this generation learned about Indigenous peoples came from movies and television.
“Generation X” which includes many of today’s decision-makers learned that the White Paper of 1969 was the solution – “stop treating them special, move off the reserve, be Canadian.” But some 275 cases trying to abolish Indigenous rights have failed in the courts, Delorme noted.
“Generation Y” began to learn about treaties – that they happened, that land was given, that residential schools were agreed to – “if you don’t like it, move.”
Finally, Generation Z and Millennials have started to learn about the truth of history, about the spirit of the treaties, about residential schools – but when they speak about that to the older generations who did not have that mandatory education, too often the response is “Nah, they are not teaching you right,” said Delorme.
“The biggest problem right now is accidental racism and ignorance of the truth,” he said.
Addressing inter-generational trauma, Delorme reflected on his own maternal lineage, starting with his great-great grandmother Gracie, who was born in 1876, and who never attended residential school, but who had the teachings of her mom and her grandmother — a “vertical lineage.” That was disrupted for her daughter Maggie, born in 1900 and sent to residential school in 1906. “Maggie should have gotten Gracie’s vertical teachings, but she did not… she and her sisters and cousins, endured physical, sexual, mental abuse.”
In turn, her daughter – Delorme’s grandmother – who should have received those vertical lineage teachings, instead lived in “horizontal survival mode,” as did her daughter, Delorme’s mother. “Then there is me – I never attended a residential school. But my mother had to figure out how to be a mother, while trying to figure out her intergenerational trauma. Now my five-year-old daughter and my mom are inseparable” with vertical lineage restored.
“In this country, in this city, in this province, some Indigenous families have their kinship – their vertical lineage is back. Some are at 45 per cent, and are getting there…. Some are still 100 per cent in horizontal survival mode,” he said. “We have to understand that people are hurting and people are healing.”
As an image for reconciliation, he asked the gathering to image two canoes travelling down a river – one canoe is Cowessess First Nation, and the other is “the crown,” Canada. Two years after Treaty 4 is signed, the Indian Act is “thrown into the Cowessess canoe,” and over the years, residential schools, breaking of spiritual traditions, loss of language put holes in the Cowessess canoe. “All we want to do in reconciliation is catch up. We don’t want to slow your canoe down.”
As an example, he pointed to the recent signing of the Cowessess First Nation Miyo Pimatisowin Act which returned responsibility for the welfare of its children to Cowessess First Nation. “Today because of that, we have repatriated 10 children in one year. We have no children in care. We are helping mothers … we are healing in our community. That is reconciliation.”
After the events of this summer, more Canadians are now focused on the truth, he said. “Yes, acknowledge the land… but follow up with something you are doing for truth and reconciliation.”
As for the end goal of reconciliation – he reflected on his five-year-old daughter’s aspiration to maybe some day be an airplane pilot. “In this country the toughest people to be are Indigenous women,” reflected Delorme, wondering if she will have to work twice as hard to be a pilot, or how she will overcome the barriers she faces in this society right now.
“We don’t just do this on June 21. We don’t just do this on Sept. 30. We do it for the fact that my five-year-old daughter wants to be like anybody else’s five-year-old daughter.”
Continuing with his imagery, Delorme said: “We in our canoe know what our solutions are… We have never given up our ways. But Canada has never believed us.”
With the recent change in child welfare responsibility that recognized the authority of Cowessess First Nation, “the floor was raised in Canada’s canoe,” said Delorme. This country has the 94 Calls to Action, gleaned when over 100,000 residential school survivors told what had been kept buried for decades, he said, and can also heed the calls to justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and girls, the recommendations of so many studies and commissions, and the recognition of the rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“It is like a golf game – everything is all teed up,” he said. “Let’s invest in both communities. In one generation we will be standing in a room talking about true parity.”
Related: Papal tour of Canada taking shape
Related: Text of Papal Apology