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Prospect of forgiveness stirs complex feelings among residential school survivors


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By Fakiha Baig in Edmonton

Residential school survivor Rod Alexis remembers his late father telling him: “Son, I don’t know how to be a parent.”

“I lost the gift that was given to us by the Creator because I was all alone in the residential school,” the member of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation recalls his father, also a residential school survivor, saying. “Many times I wanted to say ‘I love you,’ wanted to give you a hug, but I didn’t know how.”

The Pope’s upcoming visit to Canada is evoking complex feelings among many Indigenous people. Some residential school survivors and those living with the intergenerational trauma the institutions caused are ready to forgive the Roman Catholic Church for the brutality it inflicted on Indigenous peoples.

For others, the ongoing pain makes it hard to let go of the anger.

“They killed our spirit,” says Alexis. “Some of those wounds are too far gone. We see our young generation today dying of drugs, alcohol, a lot of them in jails because of the effects of the trauma that they went through.”

Canada forced an estimated 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children to attend residential schools over a century, and the Catholic Church ran about 60 per cent of the institutions. The last residential school closed in 1996.

The children were punished for speaking their languages and practising their culture. They were separated from their families and, in many cases, were subjected to psychological, physical and sexual abuse.

Pope Francis is to land in Edmonton on Sunday before going to Quebec City on Wednesday and Iqaluit on Friday. It’s expected the pontiff will deliver an apology for the Catholic Church’s role in residential schools near the site of the former Ermineskin Indian Residential School in the community of Maskwacis, Alta.

Fernie Marty, who attended a residential school in northeastern Alberta, says he’s willing to forgive.

“I had the opportunity to start my personal healing journey a few years back. I didn’t want to carry that guilt, shame, resentment and hatred in my heart. I wanted to let go of all that,” says the 73-year-old Papaschase First Nation elder.

But many don’t feel the same way, says Marty.

“There’s some that I don’t know what it would take for them to let go of the traumas that they have experienced in their lives.”

The chief of the Ermineskin Cree Nation, one of the four communities that make up Maskwacis, says an apology would be a fundamental step toward forgiveness.

“It’s time to get uncomfortable for many average Canadians,” says Chief Randy Ermineskin.

“I will tell you: my brother was 16. He came home (from residential school). First thing he did is he hung himself. So those are some of the truths that need to be revealed.”

Ermineskin says he will be watching peoples’ faces carefully as an expected 15,000 people listen to the Pope’s apology.

“It’s a time where you’re gonna feel like this is such a good feeling. Or, it might go the other way around.”

For many, forgiving is an important step toward reconciliation, adds Grand Chief George Arcand Jr. of the Confederacy of Treaty 6 First Nations.

“Though these harms can never be undone, in order to forget, I do believe there has to be forgiveness.”

But Arcand says sometimes he feels Indigenous people are too forgiving.

“We accept forgiveness and welcome people to our homes, because that’s the way our parents taught us. Traditionally, those things are still done today,” he says.

“But there needs to be justice.

“There needs to be an opportunity for the wrongs that were done to be fixed. We just see this as a first step. It’s not the only step.”

The Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program has a hotline to help residential school survivors and their relatives suffering trauma invoked by the recall of past abuse. The number is 1-866-925-4419.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 23, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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‘Short-term pain’: Group of Alberta lawyers escalate job action over legal aid cases

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By Bill Graveland in Calgary

Alberta criminal defence lawyers are taking another step in their dispute with the provincial government over the amount of compensation paid by Legal Aid Alberta.

Organizations representing lawyers in Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer and southern Alberta began job action Aug. 8 by refusing to accept certain bail and duty counsel files from legal aid.

The lawyers also began refusing certificates for new cases for the most serious criminal charges, including sexual offences, firearms-related crimes and homicides.

Beginning Monday, they say all services will be withdrawn.

“We’re going to stop taking all certificates. That will include some our prior job actions still allowed us to take certificates for people who are already existing clients and there will be a very, very limited set of circumstances now where our members will do that,” said Kelsey Sitar, vice-president of the Criminal Defence Lawyers Association in Calgary.

“The default will be: ‘We are just not taking any new work from legal aid until the problem is fixed.'”

Sitar made her comments at a rally in front of the Calgary Courts Centre on Friday that drew about 50 criminal defence lawyers.

A table with a sign reading “Save Legal Aid” offered bake goods for sale. Lawyers carried signs reading “Access 2 Justice Must be Equal.” Another read: “This sign is too small to fit my outrage.”

“This is drastic. I mean, what we were doing up until now is something I know has happened in Ontario before, it did not last long, frankly,” Sitar said.

“I can tell you that none of us want to be out here. We all want to be in there doing our jobs.”

Justice Minister Tyler Shandro has said nothing is going to be done until a review of the Legal Aid Alberta administrative system is complete, which is scheduled for next month.

He said any budget changes for legal aid wouldn’t happen until next year.

Sitar said the ministry chose to undertake “an incomplete and, frankly, useless review” at a time when the governing United Conservative Party is about to go through a leadership change.

“So we have to act now and they need to respond now,” she said.

Sitar said she understands the people being affected the most by the job action will be people with lower incomes who need the services to afford legal representation.

“It’s short-term pain right now,” she said. “It’s really unfortunate, but I can tell you that most of the people I’ve talked to on the street who are finding themselves caught up in this understand and are grateful that we’re doing it.”

Alberta Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said the problem has been growing over the last three years. She said when her party was in power, it committed to additional funding for Legal Aid, but the UCP government backtracked.

“We simply cannot be asking the Legal Aid bar to be doing what we are asking them to do at the rate that we are asking them to do it,” she told reporters.

“We have the lowest funding for Legal Aid in the country. What that means is that we don’t have equal access to justice. It undermines the integrity of our justice system and, overall, it undermines our ability to build a sense of community safety, community security and an overall respect for the rule of law — all of which are important to community health and economic growth.

“It sounds like a niche issue, but it’s not. It actually has knock-off effects to very, very important issues that affect all of us. So, the government needs to come to the table and negotiate decently with these lawyers.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 23, 2022.

— With files from Colette Derworiz in Calgary.

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‘Kind of like carnies’: International balloon festival returns to High River, Alta.

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By Bill Graveland in High River, Alberta

The windswept prairie east of the Rocky Mountains seems an unlikely spot for a hot-air balloon festival, but the town of High River, Alta., is celebrating the event’s 10th year.

More than 20 brightly coloured balloons — including a pink elephant, a black and yellow bee and the purple and yellow Eye of Ra, named after the Egyptian sun god — took advantage of a lull in the prevailing wind this week to get some up-in-the-air time to mark the opening of the Heritage Inn International Balloon Festival.

“We get about 50 per cent of our flights off. Weather impacts us everywhere,” said event director Jamie Kinghorn, who is also a town councillor.

“This is our 10th. We started in 2013 partly because of the flood that happened. I’d been to a number of balloon events and thought this might lift the spirits of the folks in town.”

The town of 12,000 just south of Calgary gained an international profile in 2013 when flooding in parts of southern Alberta caused billions of dollars in damage.

High River was one of the hardest-hit communities. Entire neighbourhoods were under water for weeks.

“I called in a bunch of friends from the balloon community and they knew what happened, so 20 of them came into High River and we put on a balloon festival that was actually amazing for the community,” Kinghorn said.

“That was sort of the first major thing toward recovery after the flood and we’ve been doing it every year since at the end of September.”

Kinghorn said the festival is a boon to local tourism and there’s not a hotel room to be had in town.

He had his first hot air balloon over the city of Calgary in 1988. A year later he was a balloon pilot.

There are 23 balloons participating this year, including some from the United States, Belgium and the United Kingdom.

Kinghorn said it’s a pretty small community.

“We tend to meet at various events. We tend to travel. We’re kind of like carnies to some extent,” he said with a laugh.

“We travel around to different cities to different balloon events.”

Alan Davidson, who has been involved in the sport since 1977, is one of the volunteers.

He said those who get involved tend to stick with it.

“The amazing thing is that there are still seven or eight of the people I was ballooning with in the ’70s and early ’80s who are still here at this event,” said Davidson. “They’ve been working with balloons for over 40 years.”

Kinghorn, who is the owner and pilot of the Eye of Ra, was the first balloon in the air Thursday morning after a Wednesday evening flight was cancelled due to the wind.

“My God am I glad we got this off,” he said as the flight came to an end.

The festival runs through Sunday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 23, 2022.

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september, 2022

tue27sep10:00 am4:00 pmCACPC Annual SHRED Event10:00 am - 4:00 pm MST The Central Alberta Crime Prevention Centre, 4311-49 Ave Event Organized By: The Central Alberta Crime Prevention Centre