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Katie McKenzie wearing a ribbon skirt standing on a green bridge overlooking the Red River.

What Pope Francis’ visit means to me

Personal reflection by a current Indigenous student at UM, Kathleen McKenzie

July 21, 2022 — 

My name is Kathleen (Katie) McKenzie, and my traditional name is Buffalo Shawl Woman. I am a member of the Gitanmaax First Nation with roots in Treaty 5 territory, but I was born and raised on Treaty 1 territory in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I also have strong Scottish, Irish, and French roots and was raised in the Roman Catholic community.

Growing up both in my traditional Indigenous ways and in the Catholic community has created internal challenges for me that I have had to learn to overcome. For example, when the discoveries of the unmarked graves at various residential schools across Canada came to light, it made me re-evaluate my beliefs and how I felt about the various sides of myself that I had grown up with. As both a third-generation residential school survivor and someone who attended Catholic school, it was important for me to speak about these feelings with members of my Indigenous and Catholic community. In doing so, I was able to learn more about myself and my beliefs. Because of this experience, I had the opportunity to be a part of the Manitoba Catholic Schools Truth and Reconciliation Advisory Committee where I contribute to the learning and growth of educators within Manitoba’s Catholic schools. What started as an internal challenge evolved into a positive opportunity that pushed me to live more authentically in both my beliefs and allowed me to share my knowledge with others. 

As both an Indigenous person and a member of the Catholic community, Pope Francis’ visit to Canada between July 24 and 29 to apologize in person for the Catholic Church’s involvement in the Residential School System means many things to me. As an Indigenous person, I believe that it is important for this apology to happen here in Canada where the Pope can be on the lands where this genocide occurred and interact with the people who continue to experience its effects by interacting with communities and seeing first-hand what the institution implemented and what it did to so many generations, I hope that he truly understands what it is he is apologizing for. I also hope that many Indigenous peoples can find some sort of closure or comfort in knowing that the head of the system which played a part in harming our ancestors and community, has recognized and apologized for these actions. In addition, I also feel that it will be a positive experience for those within the Catholic community to see the Pope lead by example as to how we can move forward in reconciliation. With Pope Francis hopefully showing that it is important to recognize and apologize for the mistakes made by the Catholic church, it provides members of the church with the opportunity to do the same with Indigenous peoples in their own communities. This is something that I have already seen a lot of within the Manitoba Catholic Schools community through their willingness to learn, grow and share this message of reconciliation with others.

Overall, my hope is that his visit will foster a new direction of reconciliation between the Catholic Church and Indigenous peoples. One way I believe that this will happen is through the accountability demanded by the youth of today. It has increasingly been seen that young people in today’s generation want accountability and action. While an apology from Pope Francis acknowledges what has happened, it is the actions going forward that youth believe to be the real signs of change.

Through our Indigenous teachings, we are taught about our past seven generations and our next seven generations. I truly believe that this is one of those instances where it is going to take seven generations of acknowledging, learning, and action to move us forward in a good way. I hope that this apology not only helps those who’ve survived the Residential School System, but also the generations of survivors who followed on this journey of healing for our elders and our communities.

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