Métis elder and residential school survivor Angie Crerar said it was a dream come true to hear the historic and long-awaited papal apology from Pope Francis to Indigenous residential school survivors on Friday in Rome.
The 85-year-old great-great-grandmother from Alberta was 8 when she first attended St. Joseph’s Mission in Fort Resolution, NWT, where she was traumatized by the abuses she experienced and witnessed, along with her two younger sisters.
They had been taught to respect the Catholic Church and its clergy and were afraid to speak out against the abuses.
She recalled girls getting pregnant at 14. “Who did that?” she said. “Priests? Brothers? Who else? Nobody else was there.”
Ms. Crerar’s account, along with the stories of 23 other Métis survivors, was included in a booklet produced by the Métis Nation of Alberta that she presented to Pope Francis on Friday in his final audience with Indigenous delegations. It was part of a gift exchange to mark a relationship of reconciliation and healing.
In the booklet, Ms. Crerar wrote: “We were punished severely if you talked back, missed prayer time, wet the bed or did not do your chores on time.”
She wrote that “night invasions” in the dormitories – both girls’ and boys’ – were the most terrifying.
“Those who professed to be there for the love of God, took advantage of their positions by sexually abusing the very children they called savages. Those who were going to teach us a better way of life.”
“Nobody cared we were only children.”
For decades, Ms. Crerar kept silent about her story. So did so many other survivors. Keeping their silence meant enduring “quietly the anger and rage building up within us,” she said.
It wasn’t until the early 2000s that Ms. Crerar felt ready to break her silence, and she began to encourage other survivors who were also ready to speak out.
Audrey Poitras, president of the Métis Nation of Alberta, said it took the organization three years to gather and record the stories in the booklet presented to the Pope. Ms. Poitras was in Rome to support Ms. Crerar.
“Some of them wanted to remain anonymous, but they wanted their story told,” Ms. Poitras said. “And some of them like her said, no, I want my family to know that I’ve told.”
Ms. Crerar was part of the Métis delegation that met with Pope Francis privately on Monday. She said she feels a sense of accomplishment for getting through to the head of the Catholic Church, after the institution and its leaders failed to apologize for so long.
She said she will continue to work for justice for the children who never returned home, something Francis personally committed to helping her do in both personal encounters she had with him on Monday and Friday.
“He told me that he would,” she said.
“I’m not worried about forgiveness, whatever,” she added. “Just take our kids home. Take those kids home.”
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