Children play key role in healing at papal apology viewing in Regina

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As a symbol of the traditional teachings children should have received in residential schools, bunches of sage were picked by Indigenous children and distributed to those who gathered at a Regina school this week to witness Pope Francis’ apology at boarding school.

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There were about 250 bundles made, chosen by eight children near Balgonie, in preparation for viewing at Regina’s mâmawêyatitân center on Monday, where about 30 people watched a live broadcast of the papal apology.

“Everything was set up by children. I thought it was very important to include this in our program, just in honor of the children who never came home,” said Phyllis Littletent, one of the organizers.

“In honor of children when our kokums (grandmothers) and moshums (grandfathers) were children, in honor of them,” she added.

The Pope is in Canada this week. Part of the trip included a trip to the Ermineskin Indian Residential School in Maskwacis, Alberta, where he offered his apology. The pontiff had apologized in Rome earlier this year when visiting survivors from Canada, but the July trip is the first time the pope has apologized in the same lands where the Catholic Church once operated these boarding schools.

“It’s just important for us, for everyone, to allow ourselves to heal as families, to allow ourselves to heal, to accept each other, to love each other,” Littletent said.

A member of the Indigenous community helps display the commemorative banner, which was the first national public record of the names of children who did not return from residential schools across Canada, as Pope Francis arrives at Muskwa Park in Maskwacis, Alberta , Canada, July 25, 2022.
A member of the Indigenous community helps display the commemorative banner, which was the first national public record of the names of children who did not return from residential schools across Canada, as Pope Francis arrives at Muskwa Park in Maskwacis, Alberta , Canada, July 25, 2022. Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON /– via Getty Images

Littletent, from Kawacatoose First Nation, co-hosted the viewing with a member of the Archdiocese of Regina, which hosted the event. The archdiocese also sent 145 people to attend the apology in person, with most returning Wednesday evening.

The viewing received little publicity other than a few posters and word of mouth, Littletent said. The day was opened with a prayer and a song of honor. A positive message was sent from start to finish, she said.

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Some teaching also took place during the viewing, which was described as a welcoming, safe and respectful environment. Littletent had her daughters greet elders and guests and hand out sage while wearing ribbon skirts. People have asked about the meaning of the dress and how to stain with sage.

“We really talked about healing, healing with each other,” she said.

There was a mix of residential school survivors, natives and non-natives in attendance. Mental health volunteers were also present, if needed. During the proceedings, Littletent’s thoughts turned to her grandmother, a residential school survivor who died in 1998 at the age of 88.

“I remember as a little girl she used to sit and tell us the stories of what they were doing and what she was seeing. They were really awful stories,” recalls Littletent. “She once said that she would like to witness an apology one day.”

Littletent consulted with alumni in the planning process leading up to the televised apology to ensure protocol was followed or no one was offended. Still, there were a lot of emotions in the room. After the apology, Littletent’s 11-year-old foster brother did a dance to bless the pitch.

“I knew it was important to get our kids out there and show them that’s what we should have done to our kids back then,” she added.

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