ST. PAUL - A memorial round dance held on March 19 was the first of four that will be put on for all the former students of Blue Quills Residential School, and the survivors who have since passed on.
The Acimowin Opaspiw Society hosted the round dance at the St. Paul Rec. Centre as a way to honour all survivors of the residential school system. There were over 100 survivors in attendance at the round dance, with the event reaching capacity at times throughout the evening.
The round dance signifies the start of the society’s work. Eric J Large is part of the society's board of directors, and he will be leading an investigation team that will be conducting three site investigations into missing children and unmarked burials at three former Blue Quills Residential School sites.
According to information from the society, "Saddle Lake Cree Nation is the Nation most impacted by Blue Quills Residential School." The Blue Quills school sits just west of the community of St. Paul and is now a post-secondary institution, although the residential school existed on other sites too.
In alignment with the (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada) calls to action, survivors are to lead all strategies and investigations into missing children and unmarked burials. Large is a residential school survivor.
"The Saddle Lake Council authorized the Acimowin Opaspiw Society and Eric Large to compete this work on behalf of the Saddle Lake Cree Nation," according to information received from the society. "Eric began his investigation two months ago with archival research. More information will be released once the full investigation team is hired."
The society believes the community received a lot of healing from the round dance that was held, and would like to thank the Town of St. Paul "for allowing us to share our culture with you all, we look forward to our continued partnership in support of reconciliation."
On Friday, Pope Francis apologized for the Catholic church's role in residential schools. Over half of the residential schools that operated in Canada were run by the Catholic church.
The apology comes as a delegation of Indigenous representatives travelled from Canada to Rome. The delegation has asked the church to return Indigenous artifacts and share documents relating to residential schools, along with supporting healing.
In his address to the delegation, Pope Francis spoke about how he was "able to enter into and be deeply grieved by the stories of the suffering, hardship, discrimination and various forms of abuse that some of you experienced, particularly in the residential schools. It is chilling to think of determined efforts to instill a sense of inferiority, to rob people of their cultural identity, to sever their roots, and to consider all the personal and social effects that this continues to entail: unresolved traumas that have become intergenerational traumas."
He added, "All this has made me feel two things very strongly: indignation and shame. Indignation, because it is not right to accept evil and, even worse, to grow accustomed to evil, as if it were an inevitable part of the historical process... I also feel shame. I have said this to you and now I say it again. I feel shame – sorrow and shame – for the role that a number of Catholics, particularly those with educational responsibilities, have had in all these things that wounded you, in the abuses you suffered and in the lack of respect shown for your identity, your culture and even your spiritual values."
The Pope also said, "For the deplorable conduct of those members of the Catholic Church, I ask for God's forgiveness and I want to say to you with all my heart: I am very sorry. And I join my brothers, the Canadian bishops, in asking your pardon. Clearly, the content of the faith cannot be transmitted in a way contrary to the faith itself: Jesus taught us to welcome, love, serve and not judge; it is a frightening thing when, precisely in the name of the faith, counter-witness is rendered to the Gospel."
Pope Francis closed his address by saying he looked forward to visiting with the delegates in the future.
"Dear friends, I have been enriched by your words and even more by your testimonies. You have brought here, to Rome, a living sense of your communities. I will be happy to benefit again from meeting you when I visit your native lands, where your families live."