Boarding school survivors, politicians, Inuit throat singers and drummers will be among the crowd welcoming Pope Francis as he ends his Canadian trip with a short visit to the Nunavut capital on Friday afternoon.
This will be the first ever papal visit to Canada’s newest territory and, for some, a potential turning point in the complex centuries-old relationship between the Catholic Church and Canada’s Inuit.
“After the Pope apologizes, we must find a way to get away from this. To start moving forward,” said Mary Azhaak Anowtalik, an 84-year-old elder from Arviat, Nunavut, speaking in Inuktitut ahead of the papal visit. Anowtalik will be part of a throat singing performance in front of the Pope in Iqaluit.
Anovtalik sees the visit as an opportunity for the Pope to “start on a different path”.
“In the old days, if someone needed guidance, they would be brought to the elders for life skills, guidance,” she said through an interpreter.
Anovtalik’s comments hint at a dynamic shift that has taken place in recent years amid talk of colonialism, reconciliation and the legacy of boarding schools. Where once the church and its leaders presented themselves as spiritual guides to the indigenous peoples, they are now seen by some in Nunavut as those in need of guidance.
“I just want to hear him say that the church is open without prejudice to everyone,” said Aksaktunguak Ashuna, who will be among a group of Inuit who greet the Pope as he steps off the plane in Iqaluit.
“That’s all I want to hear from him. For example, to apologize and open the gates of the church again.”
Iqaluit has a small Catholic parish and the city is one of 16 Catholic communities in the Canadian Arctic. Some congregations have permanent missions with a priest or sister, others are visited by visiting priests or sisters.
Speaking to Vatican News recently, Catholic Bishop of Iqaluit Anthony Weslaw Krotki acknowledged that Iqaluit does not have large numbers of native Catholics and that more Inuit in the city are Anglicans. He suggested that Iqaluit was chosen for the papal visit simply because of the logistics.
But the historical heritage of the church is of great importance in many parts of the territory.
The first permanent Catholic mission in the eastern Canadian Arctic was founded on the western shore of Hudson Bay, at Chesterfield Bay, in 1912 by Arsene Tourquetil.
Decades later, the Chesterfield Inlet student residence named after him, Turketil Hall, would become a notorious site for the physical and sexual abuse of young Inuit. Between 1955 and 1969, hundreds of children were sent there, away from home and family. Many other Inuit children were sent to the equally infamous Grolier Hall in Inuvik, Northwest West.
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Some boarding school survivors will arrive in Iqaluit on Friday, including former Nunavut Commissioner Piita Irnik, who will be part of an official delegation welcoming Pope Francis. According to the draft itinerary for the papal visit, Irnik will have about five minutes to testify before the Pope.
Dad will be in Iqaluit for about two and a half hours, arriving just before 4:00 pm ET and leaving around 6:20 pm ET.
Where to watch the Pope’s visit to Iqaluit
Pope Francis has arrived in Iqaluit.
- Time: 3:30 pm ET
- Where to watch: CBC News Network
Meeting with survivors at a boarding school in Iqaluit.
- Time: 4:00 pm ET
- Where to watch: CBC News Network
- Where to listen: CBC Radio One in Nunavut will broadcast a special Inuktitut radio show.
Pope Francis tours Iqaluit with members of the community before leaving Canada.
- Time: 5:00 pm ET
- Where to watch: CBC News Network, CBCNews.ca, CBC News App, CBC Pearl
Support is available for anyone affected by boarding schools, as well as those who are concerned about the latest messages.
Indian Boarding School Survivors Society (IRSSS) can be contacted toll-free at 1-800-721-0066.
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.
In addition, the NWT Hotline provides free support to residents of the Northwestern Territories 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It’s 100% free and private. The NWT helpline also has an option for follow-up calls.
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Residents can call the helpline at 1-800-661-0844.
in Nunavut, Hotline Kamatsiaktut available 24/7 at 1-800-265-3333. People are invited to call for any reason.