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EDITORIAL: Pope’s visit must be catalyst for continued change

All institutions must be held to a high standard of action on reconciliation efforts.
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In 2015, after years spent compiling the history and ongoing impacts of the residential school system, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) submitted its final report detailing 94 calls to action to move forward on reconciliation.  

Action #58 called for the Pope to travel to Canada and apologize for the Catholic Church’s role in the creation and managing of residential schools. 

Now, seven years later, the pontiff has finally gone the distance, concluding the Alberta-based portion of his visit this morning. 

The historical moment brought residential school survivors from great distances to the Edmonton region in the pursuit of long-awaited healing.  

One such survivor, Lisa Alikamik, who resides in Ulukhatok, N.W.T., told Gazette reporter Kevin Ma in this week’s story “St. Albert group helps N.W.T. survivors get to Pope’s mass,” that she is prepared to bring the experience back to her community in the pursuit of aiding others. 

While the Pope’s visit shows progress, more time is needed to see movement on other crucial actions required by the Catholic Church. 

As residential school survivor Evelyn Korkmaz said in Ma's second story “Thousands hear Pope apologize for residential schools,” “Today I heard an apology. I was hoping to hear of some kind of work plan.”

Indeed, survivors and their families are still waiting on the release of church records, commitments for monetary action such as funding to explore potential grave sites, an open dialogue on the fate of Indigenous artifacts kept at the Vatican, and other critical actions required to more adequately address this legacy of systemic violence. 

Just as symbolic action on the Catholic Church’s part must lead to concrete change, so too must Canadian institutions step up to the plate by challenging the status-quo that curbs real material justice for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples. 

The City of St. Albert has taken its own steps towards reconciliation in recent years, most recently in bringing on a full-time equivalent Indigenous Relations coordinator, and allocating $325,000 towards the potential renaming of streets and neighbourhoods dubbed after those who played a role in the residential school system.

Further, a year ago, council brought on a consultant to draw up a framework for an Indigenous Advisory Committee charged with guiding the city in ongoing reconciliation efforts. The framework outlines the composition of the future committee, and how it operates. Now, city council is poised to move forward on the committee’s creation when they return after the summer break.

At this time, it is unclear what teeth this committee will have to enact change, or whether key aspects of the framework forged by the consultant through dialogue with Indigenous groups — such as honorariums and membership outside the municipal boundary — will be entirely reconsidered by council.

Hopefully, the work the city has commissioned to create a framework that reaches beyond colonial structures will not be lost, and so with it, real change. 

Alikamik’s words are paramount: “I’m the generation that’s going to speak, be heard, and make a difference.”

Settler communities will do well to listen, and to hold these institutions to a high standard of action beyond pretty words and vague promises. 

Editorials are the consensus view of the St. Albert Gazette’s editorial board.