A Face of History

"When I first arrived in Wemotaci, the native inhabitants weren't speaking much about the residential school experience. At that time, there was yet to be a revival of the Aboriginal spirituality. Our people were all practicing Christians, with the rhythm of a nomadic psychology, still holding religion in high regard."

This is the recollection of Jacques Laliberté, a member of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, now associated with the Brotherhood Nazareth, located in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve in Montreal. In the 80's, this Oblate was sent to Wemotaci. A year later, he moved to Obedjiwan where he spent six years, before again returning to Wemotaci.

The aboriginals' spiritual awakening has "helped people to rediscover the cultural and spiritual richness of their past." That did not happen without reservation, especially for the elderly who viewed it with a lot of suspicion. "At the time [of their conversion] there was no science to missiology and we were discarding all spiritual traditions other than Christian," said the Oblate.

"So these elderly were now coming to me asking: 'I want to do this aboriginal spiritual experience, but is dangerous for me?'" Jacques Laliberté would simply remind them of the Catholic Creed and the deep meaning of the sacraments: is that an approach that bears the Christian spirit? "And a woman returned to me claiming she had felt fully Christian in that experience."

The Oblate never experienced the residential school, nor was he a part of the system. "When we speak about the schools, we could mention the difficulties, and that they had been abusive. One evening at the rectory, during a pastoral committee meeting, we were talking about schools, and the difficulties that were experienced. I said to my committee members: 'You have all gone through the boarding school system. Can you tell me if there has been abuse or not?'

"They were unanimous in telling me that 'yes father, there was abuse.' They did not tell me that all those in positions of responsibility were abusers. But they were unanimous in telling me that in the residential school experience, there had been abuse: both physical and sexual."

Above All, Believe Them

Then one day, father Laliberté came face to face with a victim, a lady "very, very involved" for years in the ministry. It was the busy time because of confirmations. "She told me, is it possible to meet with the Bishop? I said yes because she was a very valuable contributor to the parish. When all three of us were in the office, she blurted out, 'I've been abused by a priest'. It was like a cold shower. I did not see it coming." Father Laliberté immediately believed her.

"I said: 'My God, I am sad with you. And it's hard for me as a priest when you tell me it is a priest who did this to you because a priest should be willing to die for you rather than to become an abuser. "

"She gave me a big hug and she gave a big hug to the bishop. I did not pursue it further as I am not a psychologist. When faced with such hurts, I think we should be equipped to support people. As a priest, I have a background in counseling. If people approach the subject, I did not tell them to shut up and go seek other counseling. I listen to what they say but always leave the door open for other methods to heal.

I also found that validating their experience helped the victim to differentiate between the people who were there to help and those who had hurt them, is something that allowed the person to seek help freely."

Healing tools

A healing tool, established by the Catholic Church, called Returning to Spirit, is a series of documents in English. They are currently being translated in French.


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