Korkmaz was last to address the assembled media, but brought the most visceral response. “I’ve waited 50 years for this apology, and finally, today, I heard it,” she said. “Unfortunately, a lot of my family members, friends, classmates and members of my community that went to residential school were not able to hear it because they have passed on through suicide, alcohol addiction and other substance abuse. They could not live with the trauma they endured.”
Metro Edmonton has the second largest urban Indigenous population in Canada, after Winnipeg, with about 52,100 people, or five per cent of the population, identifying as Aboriginal. Consequences of the traumas suffered by that community can be seen on the streets of our city, in our child care system, in our courtrooms and in our jails.
Nobody at the table was under any illusion that the Pope’s visit was the end of the road or that it would solve the problems Indigenous Canadians disproportionately suffer. “There has to be effort,” said Chief Tony Alexis of the Alexis Nakota Sioux First Nation. “There has to be work and more meaningful action behind it.” Korkmaz insists that the Vatican return all documentation it has related to residential schools.
“Today we learned that the church has a ways to go,” said Chief Arcand Jr. “Turning that big ship is going to be a challenge.” He said sometimes he wonders if Indigenous people are too forgiving, too accommodating, but that that is how they were raised. “We welcome people into our homes because that’s what our parents taught us,” he said. Then he turned pensive. “The residential schools taught our people not to question authority and to be ashamed of who we are,” he said. “To be quiet and grateful of the opportunity to be more civilized by assimilating, not just by residential schools, but by numerous government policies and systems that were put in place to keep us down, to get rid of us.”