By Doug Kanentiio | Columnist
Our group, the Akwesasronon Shonatatakeronon, were not involved in the planning of the visit by Pope Francis. I was concerned that our concerns would be ignored or filtered through others so I raised this issue to the organizers at the Assembly of First Nations. We did not want a repeat of the April 1st session with the Pope in Rome, Italy since we wanted direct access to the Papacy but were excluded by design.
When it was announced the Pope would come to Canada to specifically address the residential school issue, we thought our opportunity would come about — a time in which we could inform him as to why we rejected any apology that excluded an admission by the Roman Catholic Church of crimes committed against Native children by individuals working for and on behalf of the Church.
We wanted open access to all Church records so we could provide a partial answer as to how many children were taken from Akwesasne — no one knows this at this time. We wanted criminal prosecutions and reparations. We wanted an admission that the kidnapping of the children and the disruption of language and culture was a blatant attempt to divorce us of our heritage and our lands.
We did not want personal statements of regret, nor did we want any action which could be perceived as absolution. The spirits of the children are calling us and they need to be found and then returned home. We stand in defense of those children and the survivors.
During the Pope’s first sessions he did express regret, but nothing amounting to legal responsibility. With but one or two exceptions, the Native people who met with him in Alberta did not cite the fact that children were molested, beaten, killed, and followed by a conspiracy to hide these crimes. Instead, the Pope was given a headdress and made an “honorary” member of one band council. I was apprehensive that this would be repeated elsewhere and the Mohawks would be drawn into this.
I complained to the AFN and then contacted the three councils at Akwesasne to make sure we would, if given the chance, speak about our concerns without qualification. I was told that I would be able to attend a private session with the Pope so he would be told about who we were and our decision to challenge the integrity of the various apologies.
This was an historic event, or so I thought. I would have cited the Doctrine of Discovery and how it led directly to the residential schools. I would have told him of our history with the Church and how we created a society in which women held authority under natural law unlike any other people in the world. I would have told him that he needed to meet with us on an ongoing basis so we could show him that we have the way to ensure humans survive the growing climate crisis.
I would have told him the missing children are crying to us for justice. I would have told him that Skennenrahowi — the Peacemaker — had a way for nations to live without warfare and to exist in a state of ecological harmony without a formal religion.
I would have further told him ours in not a faith-based spirituality, that Yeshua Ben Yosef (Jesus Christ) would have embraced our ways and that we were determined to convert the Church into our way of thinking.
But I was informed that I would have one minute with the Pope followed by the “opportunity” to have my photo taken with him. This was crazy. It was a disservice to the Nation and the survivors. It was denying the voices of the victims. It was an appeasement, a way for some to say the Mohawks were represented and did not voice their opposition to the apologies.
It was unacceptable. So I did not go. But as the Pope returned to Rome, he spoke to reporters, unscripted and apart from his assistants. He used the word “genocide” to describe the residential school history. That word has profound legal meaning under international law and may be cited as a way of holding the Church responsible for its criminal actions. But he did not say the Church committed genocide, just that the process of abuse and suppression was an effort to eradicate a people and that word could be applied.
Also, he did not openly retract the Doctrine of Discovery, but did acknowledge it was a factor. The Doctrine remains intact and was cited as recently as 2005 when the so-called Oneida Nation of New York (how nonsensical is that?) gambled with the collective rights of the Haudenosaunee in the US Supreme Court and lost. The late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the unanimous opinion which effectively undermined all Native land reclamation actions in the U.S. She ruled the Doctrine was the basis upon which the U.S. could take Native lands and suppress indigenous sovereignty.
Everything which happens on Native lands in the U.S. and Canada is rooted in the Doctrine. Its revocation would cause a revolution in indigenous law as it would remove “trust” and “crown” land controls over our territories and the colonial institutions imposed upon us.
The Doctrine is how the police, the social workers, the Indian agents, the Church, and the band councils were able to kidnap us. That cover needs to be removed and the raw facts of what was done to us must be exposed.
No Native “leader” spoke the way we Mohawks would have to the Pope, but some individuals had the courage to challenge the Doctrine at Quebec City and for that we are grateful.
But for the Akwesasronon victims there was no chance to speak our minds and that was the tragedy of this event.