Dorothy Loreen travelled a long way from her home community of Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., in order to hear the Pope speak in Maskwacis July 25.
Tuktoyaktuk, an Inuit word that translates roughly to “reindeer that looks like caribou,” is an Inuvialuit hamlet located north of the Arctic Circle on the shores of the Arctic Ocean.
One of six Inuvialuit (western Canadian Inuit) communities in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, Tuktoyaktuk is the only community in Canada that is on the Arctic Ocean and connected to the rest of the country by a road.
The community also has the distinction of being the first place in Canada to revert back to its traditional Indigenous name.
To get to Alberta, Loreen drove about two hours to Inuvik and then took a flight to Yellowknife, and then a charter.
Loreen said it was important for her to come in person to watch the apology as a witness on behalf of her community. She came for others who wanted to be there, but were physically unable to make the trip.
A friend of hers also wrote a letter to the Pope, which was given to their local bishop to pass on.
She said although there was a lot of Indigenous representation, there wasn’t much from the North. There weren’t many Inuit present that she saw, particularly when gifts were being given to the Pope, she added.
“I really, really liked it,” said Loreen of the the apology. “Me, I liked it, but I never did go to residential school, but I liked that he did the apology here.”
She also noted it was significant that Pope Francis returned the pair of moccasins that he had received at the Vatican in April when a delegation met with him there.
Whether or not the apology was sufficient, she said she couldn’t comment on because residential school was not her own lived experience.
“I can’t say; I didn’t go through it.”
Her mother went to residential school but none of her seven children attended one.
“She never did talk about it,” said Loreen.
A younger adopted sister attended a residential school in Inuvit for three months but Loreen said it “didn’t work out” and she came home.
A Catholic herself, Loreen tried to make it to the front to have herself and her rosary blessed on behalf of her community, but was disapointed she didn’t get the chance.
“I couldn’t get up (there). They cut if off before I reached (him).”
Seeing the leader of her religion left her feeling good, she said, though she acknowledged it wouldn’t be the same for everyone.
“Because of what these residential school students went through — you see the pain in it and there’s a lot of Elders not in the church anymore because of it, because of what they went through it,” she said.
“They have to heal in order for them to move on.”
The Pope visited Quebec City on July 27 and will arrive in Iqaluit, NU on July 29. There, he will have a private meeting with former residential school survivors and attend a public event hosted by Inuit that evening.
A farewell ceremony will be held at the Iqaluit International Airport shortly afterwards.
For support and crisis intervention for Indigenous Peoples living in Canada, call the Hope for Wellness Help Line at 1-855-242-3310 or visit hopeforwellness.ca.