A young boy with other students and a nun in a classroom at the Pukatawagan Residential School, Manitoba, circa 1960. Photo from Library and Archives Canada

Speaking Out: How can I be a part of reconciliation?

By  Speaking Out, Janelle Lafantaisie
  • November 14, 2018

I love my Church, but I admit I have at times found it difficult dealing with its sins against the Indigenous community.

One of those times was last month, attending a panel discussion at St. Boniface Cathedral on reconciliation.

Hosted by the Archdiocese of St. Boniface, it featured several leading voices in the city, including the CEO of United Way, the Chair of the Indigenous Advisory Circle for the City of Winnipeg, an Indigenous elder and residential school survivor, and the CEO of the Winnipeg Foundation.

The panel itself was facilitated by the vice president of Indigenous Affairs at the University of Winnipeg. These five people came together, sat in a Catholic cathedral and told their stories about the path to truth and reconciliation. 

As we know, the Church had a big role in colonization of the Indigenous peoples, dating back to the 1500s. We see this through those who have been made saints for their efforts, like St. Jean de Brebeuf. We also see it 400 years later in the Sixties Scoop of children who were taken from their homes and sent to residential schools in order to become a part of “mainstream society.”

I take great pride in practising Catholicism, yet I am troubled by the things I read and see about what the people of my Church have done to our brothers and sisters. I’ve read clips of the horror stories told by Indigenous people of their time in the residential school system and my heart breaks. 

There’s a very privileged side of me that doesn’t want to believe it. So, I force myself to read a little bit more. I continue to educate myself and to ask questions and to attend events that help me understand the healing that our Indigenous people so greatly require. 

Mary Courchene, an elder from the Sagkeeng First Nation and residential school survivor, absolutely blew me away. 

Her accounts of residential schools were not as horrid as some that I’ve heard. She spoke about how one of the nuns there actually became a dear friend of hers. Yet, there was still this pain and hurt that came with the created shame of being Indigenous. 

What a world to live in. To be shamed for your culture and heritage. 

Again, my sentiments come from a place of privilege because as a Caucasian person, no one has ever told me to tone down or disregard my French or Ukrainian roots. I yearn every day to learn more about the Métis culture that resides on my dad’s side of the family.

So, what can I do? How can I, a Caucasian woman who identifies as a practising Catholic, stand up for my Aboriginal brothers and sisters in their time of need? 

Attending this panel helped me in a very real way. I was able to learn and educate myself further on the work that our Church, city and country can do towards this brokenness. I was able to feel the hurt that exists and the healing that is being done. 

(Lafantaisie, 24, is a photographer for Alice and Flore Photography in Winnipeg, Man.)

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