Home Page Home Page Events Events Photos Photos Diocese of Ogdensburg Home Page  
Follow Us on Facebook

Archives Survivors speak at reconciliation event

October 18, 2023

By Keith Benman
Contributing Writer

AKWESASNE – Survivors of Indian residential schools spoke about the abuse they endured at those schools at Every Child Matters Day on Friday, Sept. 29, at Generations Park.

Their stories of being snatched away to church-run schools and maltreated there grabbed the attention of young and old in an audience of about 200. Other survivors, seated among that audience, shed tears.

The Catholic church’s role in running many of the schools made it especially painful for indigenous Catholics like Dr. Rose-Alma McDonald and Bernice Kahsennaron Lazore. Both have ministries at Akwesasne’s Catholic St. Regis Mission Church. They’ve been purposefully seeking out survivors’ stories for the past two years. It’s part of their seeking reconciliation and healing.

“For us, for me, working with the church, this is just the beginning,” McDonald said. “This isn’t like in three years everybody is going to be healed. This is just the beginning.”

It was two years ago that evidence of up to 200 unmarked graves was found at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, in British Columbia. Evidence of hundreds more graves were soon found at other residential schools in Canada. The discoveries led to outrage among indigenous communities. At St. Regis Mission Church’s front door, protesters piled the shoes of hundreds of small children to shame the church. That had a devastating impact on Mohawk Catholics like McDonald and Kahsennaron Lazore.

That’s why Catholics feel it’s important to keep showing up at events like Friday’s, McDonald said. The event was put on by the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe’s Community Advocacy Program and the Seven Dancers Coalition. Attending Every Child Matters Day in company with McDonald and Kahsennaron Lazore were Anne Marie Chisholm and Elizabeth Deziel from the Catholic Diocese of Valleyfield.

“We are really hoping to show our solidarity and witness what they are saying,” Deziel said when survivors had finished speaking. “As Catholics we’re all called to reach out and listen.”

And they’re doing more than just showing up and listening.

The Akwesasne Kateri Prayer Circle, made up of St. Regis Mission Church parishioners, is undertaking five projects to further reconciliation and healing. One will be construction of a monument in the vicinity of St. Regis Mission Church memorializing victims of the Indian residential schools. Others are the formation of elder talking circles, youth retreats, raising general awareness and the translation of church hymns into the Mohawk language. The Native North American Traveling College at Akwesasne will aid the Kateri Prayer Circle in its endeavors.

The projects will be funded with $50,000 from the Indigenous Reconciliation Fund of the Archdiocese of Ottawa-Cornwall.

St. Regis Mission Church members consider it part of a call to action that grew out of an ecumenical atonement and reconciliation service held outside St. Regis Mission Church after the Kamloops discovery.

And then, in July 2022, came Pope Francis’ apology to indigenous tribes in Canada, including a papal Mass in Quebec City.

“The whole message was about healing and reconciliation, because there’s a lot of people now that just don’t like the church, people are upset with the church – and for good reason,” McDonald said. “So, we decided to do something about it.”

The day after Every Child Matters Day, McDonald, Kahsennaron Lazore and others headed to Ottawa for an Indigenous Mass in recognition of the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation. It was held, at St. Basil’s Parish and included representation by members of the Akwesasne Mohawk Choir, Kateri Native Ministry and other indigenous Catholics.

There were readings done in the Mohawk language as well as hymns sung in Mohawk.

North Country Catholic North Country Catholic is
honored by Catholic Press
Association of US & Canada

Copyright © Roman Catholic Diocese of Ogdensburg. All rights reserved.