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“The truth has to be spoken”: residential school survivors and those lost honoured in Huntsville

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“On a path to healing, let us always remember.”

Those were the words displayed on a banner hung at St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Huntsville. A gathering was organized to honour the children who died at residential schools as well as the survivors. 

While Pope Francis’ apology this week for the Catholic Church’s role in the Canadian residential school system is a good “starting point,” Joyce Crone, a Mohawk woman, says “it will fall on deaf ears” if action isn’t taken.

It echos what the Chief of the Wahta Mohawks Philip Franks said this week following the Pope’s apology. 

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“With the intergenerational effort, I truly feel there are people that need to hear that, there are lots of Catholic Indigenous people who need to hear that,” says Crone, whose grandfather was in a residential school. “Does it begin something? Yes. It is not reconciliation.”

The gathering was organized by Dallas Boudreau, Chairperson for Truth and Reconciliation at the church, whose aunt was a residential school survivor. For a long time, Boudeau says she wasn’t able to be a member of the church. “It was so heartbreaking that I just couldn’t bring myself to come here,” Boudreau says. When she was able to return, the person who was previously in her role asked Boudreau to take over because of her history. 

“This is not, to me as a Catholic, about [the Pope] coming to apologize,” Boudreau says. “This was to spread the word of what has happened to indigenous that were in the residential schools.”

“It was a good first step, but it will be hollow and meaningless if there is no action that takes place,” Crone says, calling the speech “open-ended.”

This, she hopes, is the start of the Canadian government and Catholic Church working together to put a plan in place to help Indigenous people heal. “We have heard sorry before by other prime ministers,” Crone says. “If there is not immediate action and immediate support for Indigenous people across this country, it will just be the same. We’ve heard it before. Walk a different path. Go a different direction.”

Even after the Pope’s apology, Crone says there are “some that are in much pain.”

Crone believes the healing will take multiple generations. “We won’t see it. I won’t see it. My children won’t see it. We’ve all been traumatized,” she says.

The gathering saw around 100 people listening to stories from Crone, Boudreau, and other speakers who lived through the residential school system. “The truth has to be spoken,” Boudreau says. She adds that seeing so many attend makes “her heart happy.”

“The more that we can get allies to help us and they understand what happened, the better,” she continues.

As for what’s next, Boudreau says “there is always work to be done.” She asks everyone, Indigenous or not, to spend time at the library reading about Indigenous history or go online and read stories from survivors of the residential school system. “It is very sad what you may find, but it’s the truth,” she says. 

Boudreau adds there is so much to learn from Indigenous people and, by coming together, she believes we can heal and create a better world. 

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