Residential school survivors take part in historic ceremony with Archbishop
Published Saturday, April 14, 2012 4:23PM CST
First Nations communities and the Catholic church took a historic step towards reconciliation together Saturday afternoon.
First Nations communities hosted an open reconciliation ceremony at Thunderbird House with the help of the Archbishop of Winnipeg.
Reverend James Weisgerber, the Archbishop of Winnipeg, was welcomed as a brother by Aboriginal elders in an ancient adoption ceremony.
Anishinaabe elders and community leaders Phil Fontaine, Bert Fontaine, Fred Kelly and Tobasonakwut Kinew ceremonially adopted Weisgerber at the public event.
"It's exceedingly emotional, and I feel very humbled," Weisgerber said. "I feel very proud."
The event was aimed at helping to reconcile residential school survivors and missionary churches.
Thousands of aboriginal children suffered abuse from Catholic church members in residential schools for decades.
Mary Courchene is one of many survivors who spent years in a Manitoba residential school. "It's been Canada's dirty little secrey for 147 years," said Courchene.
Courchene watched the public ceremony Saturday.
"We never had the opportunity to try to practice those traditional ways. They were always there, but it was taken away from us," Courchene said.
The ancient ceremony performed Saturday was typically performed by elders to welcome a new relative or to bring piece between rival villages, feuding families or warring nations.
"The church is demonstrating its open heart, and I think the church is demonstrating a lot of leadership in addressing the reconciliation issues," said Derek Neepinak, the Grand Chief of Manitoba.
The ceremony also included a gift exchange. First, the Archbishop gave rosaries to the elders. Then, a traditional blanket was bestowed upon the Archbishop.
The ceremony was an important part of the reconciliation process between the church in Winnipeg and those impacted by the abuse in schools and a step towards forgiveness, Weisgerber said.
"I think we all know there is a lot of racism on both sides of the divide and hearts have to change," said Weisgerber. "Hearts that have been hurt need to change, and hearts that have hurt people need to recognize it."
For Courchene, it's not just about forgiveness. "It's to take our place in society and be validated and authenticated as people," Courchene said.