WARNING: This story contains embarrassing details.
It was a raw, powerful moment that seemed to stop time, an emotionally sung Cree song to the tune of Canada’s national anthem by an Indigenous woman in traditional regalia.
In an interview with CBC News Thursday, Si Pih Ko, also known as Trina François, said the song’s lyrics were an ancient ballad about the land and the village. Other vernacular speakers translated it as: “Our creator, preserve our sacred land, Canada. Our land is here, Canada. Our sacred land.”
After she sang to the applause and applause of the crowd in Masquatsis, Alta, Si Pich Co addressed Pope Francis in Cree directly, her voice strong in its anguish.
“You are hereby serving the oral law. We, the daughters of the Great Spirit and the sovereign members of our tribe, cannot be forced into any law, any agreement that is not the Great Law, ”she later translated for CBC News.
WATCH | Message from C Pich to Papa:
“We have appointed leaders in our territories. Manage accordingly. “Hee-hee” does not mean “thank you.” It means I have nothing more to say,” she told the Pope in Cree.
Si Pih Ko did not plan to speak during the ceremony marking the first day of Pope Francis’ “penitent pilgrimage” to Canada, but said she should have done so when the Pope was given a headdress and wore it over his skullcap or zucchetto. .
For her, it was a sign of disrespect.
“Silence is power, but I couldn’t be silent,” she later told CBC News.
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“She took a stand”
In Edmonton, Brenda Hatt, survivor of the Métis Sixties Scoop, watched it all with tears in her eyes. She said that for the first time she felt like someone was speaking for her.
“She raised her fist in the air. This is a very strong symbol all over the world. She took a stand,” Hutt, 54, said.
Raised in an English family, Hatt didn’t learn her traditional language, so she didn’t understand what they were talking about.
But she said it made a deep impression.
“You could feel the passion and pain in her voice,” she said. “She has spoken for so many people across Canada, and the fact that she’s a woman is even stronger.”
The moment was shared around the world on social media and people said they were shocked to the core, her pain was like a knife through the heart.
“She spoke from a woman’s point of view”
William Elvis Thomas proudly watched from his hometown of Si Pi Co, the Nisichawayashihk Cree, 500 miles north of Winnipeg.
“I love the fact that she had the courage to say what she said and stand up for what she believes in,” said Thomas, who heads Nihito’s local language and culture department.
Thomas knows CPC personally and is also fluent in the specific Cree dialect she spoke, “the language of the four winds or four spirits”, which was transmitted by elders living in northern Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
Thomas said it was difficult to accurately translate the words into English, but she used the term for the land of Canada, Kakanatakwhich means “that which is sacred”.
“She spoke from a woman’s point of view. She includes herself in the language when she speaks and says that we are part of a sovereign group and we are the women of the group,” Thomas said.
According to him, the message itself was a rebuke to the Pope, the Catholic Church and the colonizing countries of Great Britain and France.
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“They didn’t have the right to come in and do what they did to supplant our traditional native sacred laws that we had,” he explained.
“She claims that we still have it and that we want it to be respected and that the Pope needs to recognize it.”
“She spoke for many of us”
Back in Edmonton, Brenda Hatt says the message became even more powerful once she understood it.
“She delivered our point of view, not only her point of view, but our point of view… That we are still here, that despite all this, all the hundreds of years of trying to destroy us in Canada – and I don’t. It’s not serious. There was a plan for the genocide of the indigenous people of Canada. But you know what? We are still here.”
Hatt said it felt like a turning point in her own life.
Alberta Social Services took her from her mother when she was only four weeks old, sent her to what she describes as “terrible” foster families, and then adopted by a white family at age 13, she’s trying to connect with her lost mestizo heritage. Hatt recently learned that her late grandfather was a boarding school survivor.
“I lived with a foster family where she told me straight out that she was going to beat the Indian out of me, and I didn’t even know at that moment that I was an Indian or what an Indian was. young age, which was kind of embarrassing that I wasn’t interested in anything related to my family pedigree until I was in my 40s,” Hatt said.
Hatt is not religious and has said that the Pope’s apology means nothing to her, although she is glad that he asked for forgiveness from all boarding school survivors.
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However, she will take something away from his visit this week.
“We can’t change what happened and we need to move forward and we need to move forward together,” she said.
“And being part of a group of people who have survived hundreds of years where they should not have survived is a powerful message. And she stood up, stepped forward, raised her fist and declared, “We’re still here.” ‘How can you not be proud of her?’
CPC says she is honored to receive such a response.
“I hope it brings people back to earth. Our way of life,” she said.
Activist Si Pih Ko has lived most of her life in a wigwam as part of a protest camp on the grounds of the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba. She said the experience gave her more confidence in her ongoing struggle with the child protection system.
“I fought for two years to get my babies back and it shouldn’t have happened,” she said.
“Boarding schools remain in the child protection system and if I had to ask survivors today, ‘What would you like me to do? Because I will do whatever it takes. Your pain, your words through me. I will do it”.
Support is available to anyone who has been affected by their boarding school experience or recent reports.
A national crisis line for Indian boarding schools has been set up to provide support to former students and victims. People can access emotional and crisis help services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.
Mental health counseling and crisis support is also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the Hope for Wellness Hotline at 1-855-242-3310 or online chat at www.hopeforwellness.ca.