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LETTER: Church should fund healing centres across Canada

Letter writer says healing centres are needed 'so our Indigenous Canadians begin to heal and slowly begin to recover'
2021-07-07 Church
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In 1894, attending residential schools for all Indigenous children was made compulsory. These schools operated for over 100 years until 1996. The purpose of the schools was to remove the Indigenous children from the influence of their own special culture and assimilate them into the dominant Canadian culture.

The majority of residential schools were operated by the Catholic Church.

One would have expected to carry out the government’s mandate that the teaching of Christ would have guided all actions in teaching Indigenous children, such as, readily demonstrating love, kindness, understanding, consideration, fairness, and justice. 

“Let the little children come to me and not hinder them, the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. And Jesus took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them, and blessed them."

As well, would one not more readily embrace a different culture, if the representatives of the dominant culture demonstrated understanding and empathy and unconditionally accepted and respected the essence of the persons they were trying to acculturate?

So, it has been truly horrifying to learn that was not the case at all!

It turns out these innocent youngsters were physically and psychologically abused, neglected and, in some cases, tortured and sexually abused by priests and nuns.

If I had worked for the federal Department of Indian Affairs back in the day and was informed about some of these unimaginable abuses, I would probably have dismissed them as attempts by the parents to keep their children at home with them. 

As well, I could not imagine any priest or nun, who represents the embodiment of the goodness of Christ, could possibly have engaged in such heinous and anti-Christian actions!

As a parent, I can with great pain imagine the unbearable heartbreak and horror of having my child, as young as three, ripped from my arms while listening to their uncontrollable cries for mommy.

After reading about the grievous treatments of innocent Indigenous children snatched away from their family and community, it made me think about prisoners who have been incarcerated due to committing some kind of crime. It appears that these children were subjected to treatments and punishments far worse than convicted criminals.

The first-hand accounts of survivors tell the same story- day in and day they were viewed with contempt and treated with cruelty.

Often, they were so hungry they would eagerly eat food in a state of decay, as well as swill found in barrels for pigs and endure brutally cold winters outside without proper winter outfits and many reported they were beaten and strapped on a regular basis.

I cannot imagine how terrifying it must have felt when you were experiencing some kind of pain or illness and you were unable to tell the nuns how you felt.

How many died agonizing deaths from tuberculosis and influenza with no medical intervention?

Many of these despicable punishments were so cruel and inhumane that it pains me to even repeat them. One cannot help but wonder what misbehaviours these small motherless and fatherless children could possibly have committed, when the nuns and priests at St. Anne’s Residential School in Fort Albany subjected them to electric shocks in a homemade “high-backed with steel arms” electric chair?

As an aside, is it not truly ironic that the electric chair punishment occurred at St. Anne’s, a school named after Jesus’ grandmother!

At the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, it was reported some students were shocked to such a degree it rendered them semi-conscious. But the endless terrifying shocks suffered by these small and developing bodies were not considered significant, according to Church lawyers, as the shocks did not cause permanent physical harm.

Not only did these vulnerable children suffer from the shocks of an electric chair, but they endured a host of crimes against humanity, as reported in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

One grandmother tells the harrowing story of trying to communicate to the nuns at the age of four in the only language she knew. One would have expected a caring and kind nun, who is supposedly married to God, would patiently have tried to understand her. And then begin to teach her the English words she needed to communicate in simple terms. That is far from what happened!

How terrified this small four-year-old must have felt when the nun punished her by pushing a pin into her tongue! For what seemed like hours, this motherless child had no choice but keep her mouth open until the nun finally removed the pin.

There are many grave concerns that need answers. 

Why did children at residential schools die at a far higher rate than those in the general population?

Why did the schools neglect to record the names in nearly a third of the deaths?

Why did they only record the cause of death in only half of the cases?

How many children were buried like dogs on the grounds of the 130 residential schools in operation in Canada?

Why were these small children not buried with dignity in marked graves stating their Indigenous names and ages, so parents, at the very least, had an opportunity to come and grieve at the grave sites?

Now we have just been informed by the provincial government, we taxpayers will be forking out $50 million to pay for the continued investigation.

I totally agree with the need and moral obligation to do whatever is necessary to uncover the truth about residential schools.

The question that begs to be answered is why do we taxpayers have to pay any money whatsoever?

Since the Catholic Church is estimated to have a worth between $10 and $15 billion, one would have expected the Pope, as an act of remorse and good faith, would have immediately donated tens of millions of dollars to build and maintain healing centres right across Canada.

When I visited the Vatican a few years back, I was astounded to discover the countless statues and ancient works of art painted by the masters. As well as the most lavishly detailed opulent architecture I had ever observed in Europe!

I learned the Vatican Museum consists of 54 museums and has over 70,000 exhibits including eight galleries of ancient priceless Etruscan vases, sarcophagi, and bronze relics from antiquity.

I wonder why the Church is hanging onto these valuable antiquities when God’s children are suffering from lack of water, food, clothing, shelters, and medical care. Mark 10:21: “You lack one thing, go sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasures in heaven; and come, follow me.”

“How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven; it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” 

I would imagine if the Vatican sold just a few of their prized antiquities, they would fetch enough money to build and maintain healing centres with all the facilities and medical personnel needed so our Indigenous Canadians begin to heal and slowly begin to recover.

It is my ardent wish that all levels of governments will pressure the Vatican to provide the funds to build and maintain healing centres right across Canada to help mitigate the everlasting traumatic damage they have caused.

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Gwen Petreman