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The Pope maybe did one thing | Tony Stevenson

Friday, July 29, 2022 @ 10:16 AM | By Tony Stevenson

Tony Stevenson %>
Tony Stevenson
Honestly, I look at this text message from an Elder I had the pleasure of meeting in my travels, the late Josephine Worm. Ironically, I never met her before, but I was in the same residential school as her three daughters. She definitely was an intellect and very focused and determined to accomplish her goal of holding the federal government administrators to account for the harms she was exposed to during her tenure as a student. (I met her during an Elders’ meeting on the compensation process that became available in the year 2007.)

She stuck out to me because the Elders’ group that she was a part of had been put through the mill of false hope from a couple of “professional agents” promising huge financial compensation awards for their years of attending a residential day school.

Unfortunately, some of the Elders had to take the peanuts offered to them as their health was failing — many knew they were going to be leaving on their journey to the Spirit World, so it was the only form of retribution they could get before they did. Josephine Worm made certain I was not one of those swindlers who wanted to make a fast dollar off their compensation award. Oh, and she challenged me on every point I made, and she had every right to do because this was her life’s legacy.

I understood the task at hand and the importance of it; many lawyers and adjudicators played foolishly with my residential school Elders stories for their own benefits.

One of the male Elders just came out and sarcastically asked me, “And how much are you making off us? What’s your cut?” He didn’t look at me when he asked that question because he was angry — he stared at the floor.

I replied: “I do not take any money from you nor can I. When I work for you, I will make sure that there are two of your family members with us in the interview room so that if there are papers to sign, your family knows what is going on. I never work with you alone, and I get my gas and meals from donors and in some cases, the band office pays. I have been through the abuses from the same schools, so I know what it is like to feel how you do. It would be my honour to help all of you as much as I can, but it’s free for you; the way it should be. The old ways that I was taught seem to be forgotten since money got involved.”

The Elder looked up at me and said, “That’s the way, my boy. That’s the way.”

Over the months of travelling to other communities and doing this work, I heard from a family member that Ms. Worm was not doing well. I had heard she was in the hospital, so I sent her a text wishing her a fast recovery. (I had not known the extent of her illness. She passed away a few days after I got her kind reply.)

Unfortunately, I have heard from some elementary school children who think that we should stop talking about residential schools. “It doesn’t affect my life,” they say. To them, I respond that yes, it is very disturbing, but I will not hold those kids responsible. Their educational environment created this ignorant belief. With more education and meaningful, respectful dialogue this attitude will be undone.

The visit from the Pope has triggered many of the residential school family because of the lack of what they consider a “meaningful apology.” The majority of the residential school family knows it is missing the historical truth of how his religious establishment deemed our traditional ways of life to be savage, and we did not deserve to be treated as humans. Somehow the Pope seems to have forgotten to mention that little detail; perhaps it would undermine the importance of his religious establishment. However, he does admit, “some of his people” had done great harms to First Nations; namely to the children.

Publicly, he did validate those claims of abuse, murder, rape, etc. And sadly, there are some non First Nations who claim this is still a hoax to get money from the government. Convincing the majority of the outside world of that is now their problem. I will take some solace in that fact.

Personally, I feel the Pope is missing a few more important details of what his establishment has done but with those words, he can undo a lot more mistakes to help my people get back to an even playing field with non First Nations.

More importantly, we owe it to the residential school family members who are no longer with us. We have to make sure our history is heard;  that it is learned — made mandatory in educational systems and given the respect it so deserves.

I hope many of you take the time to share these stories of history with those who need to hear them. We don’t have to be afraid to share or speak the truth anymore. I promised those Elders I would do my best to do just that. That was their wish. 

Tony Stevenson is a member of the Anishnabec First Nation in the Treaty 4 Area in Saskatchewan who attended the QuAppelle Indian Residential School in Lebret, Sask. He worked extensively with the independent assessment process preparing and representing peers and elders for compensation hearings. He was awarded the Queens Diamond Jubilee Medal and recognized by both the Saskatchewan and Regina chambers of commerce for creating a cross-culture work project at the Conexus Credit Union. He travels to schools, universities, businesses and labour organizations to give presentations on truth and reconciliation. Learn more at MJ’s Ole Skool Crew.

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