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Sylvan Lake Indigenous delegate meets Pope Francis to hear an apology for residential schools

Brianna Lizotte hopes the meeting forges a collective path to reconciliation
Brianna Lizotte / Facebook image

Pope Francis met with Canadian Indigenous delegations, including Sylvan Lake’s Brianna Lizottem, asking for a pardon for the inter-generational sufferings inflicted by some members of the Catholic Church on April 1.

Nearly 200 Indigenous delegates attended a final meeting for the long-awaited apology at the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the pope in Vatican City, Rome.

“It was quite an emotional week, just being there and having our stories heard,” said Lizottem. “Inter-generational trauma from residential schools has impacted all Indigenous families,” she added.

After a few days of meeting with delegations of First Nations, Inuit and Métis people and hearing stories about life in the residential school system, the Catholic Church head shared emotions of “indignation” and “shame.”

“I feel shame — sorrow and shame — for the role that a number of Catholics, particularly those with educational responsibilities, have had in all these things that wounded you, in the abuses you suffered and in the lack of respect shown for your identity, your culture and even your spiritual values,” said Francis, in the transcript of his address.

The apology came unexpectedly for 21-year-old Lizottem, a representative of the Métis delegation.

“This is a step for us to start trusting and hopefully in the future, we can all work together towards reconciliation,” said Lizottem, adding, “This apology isn’t the end. It’s just the beginning to a new stage of healing.”

During a performance with three other Indigenous musicians, Lizottem showcased her cultural heritage and played fiddle in front of the pope.

Fearing a mistake, Lizottem was unable to make eye contact with the pope as she performed. However, a thumbs-up reaction from the pontiff at the end of their performance was a moment she said she will remember as the highlight of her life.

Lizottem was invited by the Métis Nation of Alberta to join the delegation team at the beginning of March. She has been playing the fiddle for over 10 years and is going to Edmonton’s MacEwan University to continue her journey of becoming a professional musician.

Lizottem shared her pride in watching people finally open up about their experiences at the residential schools.

“It was a great start for people to begin talking about their experiences and it’s a first step towards healing and speaking our truths, which I feel will lead to reconciliation.”

In efforts to destroy the cultures, identities and histories of Indigenous people of Canada, a formal system for the residential schooling of Indigenous children was established, states the Government of Canada website. It is estimated that at least 150,000 First Nation, Inuit, and Métis children attended residential schools from the 17th century until the late 1990s.

The schools were largely operated by certain churches and religious organizations and administered and funded by the federal government as a key aspect of colonialism.

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