A woman reacts as Pope Francis meets with First Nations, Metis and Inuit indigenous communities is Maskwacis, Alberta, Canada A woman reacts as Pope Francis meets with First Nations, Metis and Inuit indigenous communities is Maskwacis, Alberta, Canada  (AMBER BRACKEN)

Residential school survivor: 'I'm here for my parents, whose kids were taken'

Gerry Shigouz, a survivor of Canada's residential schools, opens up about her relationship with the Church, and the strength she finds in standing for those who did not make it, as Pope Francis asks forgiveness for the Church's role in the system.

By Francesca Merlo

Gerry Shigouz was in Maskwacis, near Edmonton, Canada, listening to Pope Francis' words as he travels the country on his "penitential pilgrimage".

She told Vatican News' Marine Henriot that she was "nervous". Nervous to be surrounded by Catholic Church officials, and nervous to even look at some of the priests attending the Pope's meeting with indigenous peoples at Maskwacis.

Four siblings

She said she feels this way because she is a residential school survivor, having attended Muscoweguan Residential School from 1962 to 1971. Along with Gerry, "my brother George attended for eleven years, my sister Darlene attended for ten years, and my little sister Connie attended for six."

But Gerry has not always been able to speak about those years, explaining that she started sharing her story with other students only in 2015. Since then, she has "probably" shared it with about 15,000 individuals so far, from elementary school to university. 

"I share my story because I like to get the truth out about our history and what happened, so that people know" because, she added "they didn't learn that in school".

"The world needs to know what's going on," stressed Gerry. She recalled the visit of an indigenous delegation to the Vatican in April, noting that there was no mention of the hundreds of children being found, to this day, on residential school grounds.

“I want people to know that they are mourning. We are grieving, and we feel sorry for those little children who never made it home.”

More than words

It took Gerry a lot of courage to attend the events in Edmonton. She cut off her relationship with the Church in 2010, the same year in which she disclosed her abuse and began to speak about what happened.

"I'm really nervous, and I feel uncomfortable right now," she confessed as she attended the encounter with the Pope in Maskwacis. "But I am here, looking for and expecting an apology. I would like action. More than words. I'm looking for the apology to be sincere and genuine" and for "responsibility and accountability to be taken for the harms and the wrongs that were done. That's what I'm looking for."

Gerry recounted that her courage comes from whom she is there standing for.

"I'm here today to stand for my brother George. George never got to share his story. He never became a dad. He didn't graduate, because he experienced so much trauma at residential school."

And along with George, Gerry is standing for her parents: "my Mum and Dad, because their kids were taken."

"Today," she concluded, "I stand for them."

Listen to the full interview
25 July 2022, 22:34