NAN Residential School Survivor Evelyn Korkmaz Shares Message with Pope Francis

Pope Francis - Photo credit to Adam Scotti
Pope Francis - Photo credit to Adam Scotti

QUEBEC CITY, QC: Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Indian Residential School Survivor Evelyn Korkmaz, a member of Fort Albany First Nation, presented a letter with the following message to His Holiness Pope Francis in the traditional territory of the Cree First Nation of Waswanipi this morning:

“This has been an emotional week for me as a Survivor, as it has been for other Survivors. I have waited 50 years for an apology, and I finally heard it this week. But some Survivors did not get to hear it because we lost them to the trauma caused by Residential Schools.

IRS Survivors, their families, and anyone requiring emotional support or assistance can contact:

  • IRS Survivors Society at 1-800-721-0066 (toll-free)

  • IRS Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419

  • NAN Hope 1-844-NAN-HOPE (626-4673)

We must not forget this visit is not about you, Your Holiness. It is about the centuries long genocide committed against the Indigenous Peoples on Turtle Island. When unmarked graves were uncovered, it horrified the world. The Catholic Church was forced out of silence and forced to respond to the crimes it committed.

For more than 10 years, the Canadian Government and the Catholic Church have breached the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, which both parties signed in 2004. This was the start of St. Anne’s Residential School Survivors being dragged through Canada’s justice system. St. Anne’s Survivors have been forced to take their fight to the Supreme Court of Canada to seek justice for the crimes of genocide committed against our people. We as a people will no longer be subject to stand by and let our human rights be violated. We will stand up together as a nation.

Earlier this week in Edmonton, Your Holiness, you said you wanted to walk, work, and pray with us. To seek truth, justice, and reconciliation. The Indigenous Peoples on Turtle Island call on the Catholic Church to take ownership and accountability for the horrific crimes committed against our ancestors, children, families, and our communities.

An apology on behalf of the Christian faith is not enough. The Catholic Church needs to own up to the responsibility. An apology CANNOT undo the pain and suffering a Survivor has endured under clergy care. We want justice for our people who were harmed by religious institutions.

For reconciliation, the Catholic Church must work with Survivors to produce a concrete plan on how the Church will move forward.

All Residential School documents, records, journals, and photographs still in your possession at the Vatican must be released. These documents will help to locate unmarked graves and identify where lost souls were buried. It will help to identify children who died or who are still missing. These documents belong here in Canada; it is our history. These actions would help to bring closure to our loved ones and their families who have been denied closure and healing for so long.

The Catholic Church should also amend the rules and policies for those who are accused of sexual abuse. This will allow Survivors to bring these predators to justice and help Survivors find closure. Relocating predators, only too reoffend, is not the answer. A roadmap on their whereabouts and movement is essential for the security and well-being of our children and future leaders.

We also ask you to rescind the Doctrine of Discovery for those countries affected by this racist document.

In closing, I would like to say: ‘If one member suffers all suffer together with it1’.”

Evelyn Korkmaz attended the notorious St. Anne’s Indian Residential School between 1969 and 1972, run by the Oblate Catholic nuns in Fort Albany First Nation on the remote James Bay coast.

She is one of 22 Indian Residential School Survivors to be granted a private audience with the Pope to share personal messages on the final day of his Apostolic Journey to Canada. She was accompanied and supported by NAN Deputy Grand Chief Anna Betty Achneepineskum, who attended events in Edmonton and Quebec City with Survivors from across NAN Treaty #5 and Treaty #9 territories.

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