Ulukhatok, N.W.T., is a long way from Maskwacis, Alta. — some 2,000 kilometres, in fact.
Almost everyone there either went through the residential school system or knows someone who did, said Lisa Alikamik, who runs the food bank in Ulukhatok. Many wanted to attend the Pope’s visit to Alberta this week, but few could, due to the distance and cost.
Alikamik was one of the thousands of residential-school survivors in Maskwacis July 25 to meet with Pope Francis.
The Pope is in Canada this week as part of a national pilgrimage of healing and reconciliation. The Alberta leg of his trip took him to Maskwacis, Edmonton, and Lac Ste. Anne.
Help from St. Albert
Alikamik and her cousin Lillian Kanayok were able to take part in the Pope’s visit with the help of the St. Albert branch of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, said society member Linda Tutt.
Tutt said the society works with Alikamik to ship necessities to Ulukhatok as part of its North of 60 project. The community itself is fly-in only, and is visited by supply barge once a year.
Bishop Jon Hansen recently chartered a plane to take residential school survivors from throughout the Northwest Territories to Edmonton for the Pope’s visit, and asked groups like the society for potential passengers, Tutt said. She worked with Alikamik to find candidates from Ulukhatok.
“This trip is going to be super strenuous,” Tutt said on Thursday, noting many of the survivors they reached were not physically able to make the trip.
Tutt said they settled on Alikamik and her cousin, and arranged for them to travel to Edmonton. The society provided food, lodging, and transportation for everyone during their stay in Edmonton.
Ulukhatok is a tight-knit community of about 420 people on Victoria Island, Alikamik said in a July 22 interview. Everyone there looks out for each other, and almost everyone is Inuit.
“If you want to experience tradition and culture, it is Ulukhatok,” she said.
When asked how the residential schools have affected her and her community, Alikamik explained that it comes down to a lack of love. Youths went into the schools yearning for love and instead received abuse, and grew up thinking that was normal.
“People were traumatized so much they were unable to love fully,” she said — an experience they passed onto their own kids as parents.
Alikamik said she grew up wondering why the people around her were suffering the way they were, and went to many healing camps to understand them and herself. Speaking days before the visit, she said she is ready to hear the Pope speak during his Edmonton tour and bring the experience back to help others in her community.
“I’m where I’m supposed to be right now for those who weren’t able to speak,” she said.
Alikamik said she hopes Francis will share his perspective on Canadian history at Maskwacis, and what he will contribute to Indigenous people in Canada.
“He has a mom that he loves, and I hope he distills that same love and puts it forward to all, because we are all children at the end of the day.”
Alikamik said she and her cousin also plan to attend the Pope’s events at Commonwealth Stadium and Lac Ste. Anne, and are excited to meet other school survivors.
“I’m here for my grandparents, my mom, my dad, and all my friends,” she said.
“I’m the generation that’s going to speak, be heard, and make a difference.”