WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
A residential school survivor returned to her home province one day after the head of the Roman Catholic Church officially apologized for the role some members of the church played in Canada’s residential school system.
Linda Daniels of Long Plain First Nation was exhausted after a long day of travelling from Italy, but overcome by emotion in a tearful embrace with her daughter Juanita Daniels Bunn and granddaughters Honey, Shaylynn and Jayda at the Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport on Saturday evening.
Daniels was part of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis delegations who spent a week in Rome before having a public audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Friday.
The 68-year-old Daniels, who was forced to attend a residential school in Sandy Bay, Man., admitted it was a difficult trip.
“It was a hard trip but he said he was sorry,” Daniels said of the Pope.
The Pope expressed “sorrow and shame” for the role members of the church who ran the schools had in abuse that happened at the institutions and for the lack of respect shown at the schools for Indigenous identity, culture and spiritual values.
Daniels recalled a time at residential school when her older sister Marlene Peters was struck with a strap across her face and back.
“I felt helpless because she was in front of me,” Daniels said with tears streaming down her face.
Daniels said her sister died 10 years ago, adding “she never healed; she took [the pain] with her.”
Star blanket gifted to Pope
Delegates also brought gifts for the Pope, including a star blanket made by a member of a Manitoba First Nation.
Sandy Bunn, who’s from Birdtail Sioux Dakota Nation, said the finished product featured seven feathers that represent the seven sacred laws, a set of traditional Indigenous teachings.
The colours on the blanket carried meaning too: orange, commemorating children forced to attend residential institutions, and white, representing purity and making a connection to the Pope, Bunn told Stephanie Cram, host of CBC Manitoba’s Weekend Morning Show.
“I’m very honoured. One of my biggest fans is my mother and she is a residential school survivor … both my parents were. So when my mom heard that this is what I was creating, she was really happy for me,” she said.
“She feels very blessed as well. And she also thinks that this is a really good connection for healing.”
Bunn said she cried while making the blanket. At one point, a single teardrop fell onto it.
“I didn’t mean for it to happen, but I thought about it later and that tear was filled with so much pain from the past, not only from myself, but my mom and … my children and my family and families everywhere,” she said.
LISTEN | A beautiful star blanket gifted to the pope this week:
The Weekend Morning Show (Manitoba)8:35A beautiful star blanket gifted to the Pope this week
“I made this blanket to represent who we are as a people, not what they tried to destroy or kill within us.”
Bunn said while she hasn’t yet seen any images of her blanket being handed to the Pope, she learned as it was traveling to Rome that the person who would deliver it had a connection to her own family: Daniels, who’s the mother of her half-brother and half-sister, Juanita.
‘We will never forget’
Although the Pope’s apology is allowing Daniels herself to heal a little, she knows others aren’t ready to accept it.
“There was a lot of anger and there still will always be a lot of anger,” she said. “We can forgive but we will never forget what’s happened to all of us.”
The Pope said he hoped to visit Canada around the church’s Feast of St. Anne, which is July 26, but which exact parts of the country he will visit remain unknown.
Daniels knows there’s so much to think about ahead of a potential papal visit — it’s been 20 years since Pope John Paul II was in southern Ontario, including Toronto — and she hopes he comes to Manitoba.
“I think it will be a wonderful thing for him to come and really see our schools, the residential schools and what’s left of them, and for other people to tell [him] what happened to them,” she said.
Daniels’ daughter Juanita Daniels Bunn is relieved to have her mom back home in Manitoba after the farthest international journey of her life.
Daniels Bunn, her family and members of their community are so proud of what Daniels did.
“She made history,” she said.
“It took a lot for her to be there. She had her moments where she would call us and she’s like, ‘I don’t know if I can do this,'” she added. “But we knew she could. She’s strong — she’s a strong lady, that Linda Daniels.”
More than 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend residential schools between the 1880s and 1996, and more than 60 per cent of the schools were run by the Catholic Church.
WATCH | Pope apologizes for residential school abuse:
Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools or by the latest reports.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.