WARNING: This story contains unpleasant details.
Mental health providers across the country have been significantly busier helping people with trauma since Pope Francis arrived in Canada and apologized for the forced assimilation of indigenous peoples in boarding schools.
“From the moment we organized until the Pope made his first address on Monday, we saw about 125 people come to us in Maskvatsis,” said Nola Jeffrey, executive director of Tsow-Tun Le Lum, narcologist and traumatologist. a referral center that offers traditional and cultural treatment in Lantzville, British Columbia
The BC Indigenous Health Authority and organizers of the papal visit invited Geoffrey and her team of elders, survivors and survivors of intergenerational trauma to come to Alberta to provide support as the Pope apologized for the first time in Canada to boarding school survivors and their families in Musquatsis, Alta, south of Edmonton.
“After [the apology]people just came to us in droves,” Geoffrey said. “We didn’t leave until the last person who needed help ran out.”
Indigenous Peoples Services Canada said the federal government’s 24-hour crisis support line has received twice as many calls as usual since the Pope arrived on a penitential visit this week.
“Crisis lines are getting calls from all over the country,” Kyle Fournier, a spokesman for Canada’s Indigenous Services, said in an email Thursday.
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“Calls in crisis services express a variety of emotions. For some, the visit of the Pope and his apology can be healing, while for others it can be a trigger. Discussions about the harmful legacy of boarding schools are important, but can also be difficult. for many.”
On average, since January 2022, the National Indian Boarding School’s crisis line has received 121 calls per day, Fournier said.
But the day the Pope apologized for the cultural destruction and forced assimilation of indigenous peoples, the number of calls jumped to 277. The next day, the emergency line received 244 calls.
Fournier said that in Alberta, 300 additional mental health and cultural support workers have been asked to attend papal events. Sixty workers have been asked to come to Quebec and 40 mental health workers are due to come to Iqaluit during the Pope’s visit, eight of whom are clinical consultants.
During the Pope’s visit to Alberta, Jeffrey said, she was traveling from British Columbia with traditional medicines, including cedar and spruce branches, which people clean themselves with to release negative energy.
Many people also asked Geoffrey to wash the tears from his face with cold water, which is traditionally done four times. Water helps balance emotions and ground people.
“The first wash is in honor of the Creator, the second is in honor of the ancestors, the third is in honor of your territory, and the last is at the moment when I always say: “This is the most important wash – in honor of the beautiful and precious you.”
Jeffrey said her team never turned anyone down.
“The clergy even came to us, and the guy who was in charge of security got depressed and came for help,” she said.
The next day, she said, she stayed after midnight with her team at Lac Sainte. Anne, northwest of Edmonton, after the Pope took part in the sacred pilgrimage. Geoffrey said that many people there also need help.
She said Canadians need to think about how those who can’t let go of their pain can be supported in the days, weeks and years ahead.
“There is a teaching that it takes seven generations to let go of trauma, and so we are just on top of that,” she said. “I hope we can help our people,” she added through tears.
“Dad didn’t talk about how children were raped, beaten, shamed, starved and experimented on. We need our people to feel good. So many of our people are dying.”
During his speech at Maskwatsis on Monday, the pontiff apologized for the harmful actions of many church members against Indigenous peoples, Métis and Inuit, and for the role they played in Canada’s “devastating” policy towards Indigenous boarding schools.
He said that the forced assimilation of indigenous peoples into Christian society destroyed their culture, separated their families and marginalized generations, which is still felt today.
He said the memories of children who never returned from boarding schools left him feeling “grief, resentment and shame.”
“In the face of this unfortunate evil, the church kneels before God and begs Him to forgive the sins of her children,” the Pope said during his speech on Monday. “I want to confirm it myself, shamefully and unequivocally.”
Fournier said that access to trauma-informed cultural and emotional support services, as well as professional mental health counseling, will continue to be available through the federal government’s Native School Health Support Program.
“Community-based support varies from community to community and may include services for older people, traditional healers, indigenous health care providers, and peer counselors. Professional mental health counseling is also available through this program.”
Geoffrey said that the indigenous peoples flourished thousands of years before colonization.
“Colonization is just a flash in our history,” she said. “It’s a painful upsurge, but I know we can get out of this, get strong and thrive again.”
This story was produced with the financial support of Meta and the Canadian Press News Fellowship, which is not involved in the editorial process.
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.