How The Pope’s Recognition of Indigenous Genocide Makes His Trip Worthwhile

In response to CBC’s article “Pope says genocide took place at Canada’s residential schools for Indigenous children” by Ka’nhehsí:io Deer on July 30, 2022. Retrieved July 30, 2022, 6:05 AM.

In my award winning research essay, “Indigenous Genocide by Shame,” I contribute to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and to its legal analysis on the use of the term Genocide to describe the experience of Indigenous peoples in Canada. In the research, I learned how the way parents discipline their children in early childhood can have very impactful consequences on how their children connect with society, community, family and themselves. Using shaming language and messaging that, according to researchers Tangney and Dearing, express disgust, tease, communicate conditional approval, and the use of love-withdrawal techniques are the evil ingredients for developing children who constantly question their own worthiness, whereby the consequences of such a condition are unimaginable but apparent in our society: addiction, violence, death.

In my peoples timeline since time immemorial, there have been thousands of years of healthy family dynamics, connections to community and resilience, which are requirements if you wish to live in the harsh environments of Turtle Island prior to colonization. Once colonization began, it was not only our people’s bodies that were infected by European viruses, but also our culture due to the shaming language and culture introduced by the church.

What was once not part of my culture, was introduced by the churches involved in cultural genocide. My research paper focused on how our own practices of disciplining our children, practices that would often instill resilience and the willingness to change and adapt, were replaced by the more shaming language and culture introduced by the church.

Spirit River Striped Wolf

How does this relate to the Pope’s visit? Well, as I sat awake from another sleepless night scrolling TikTok and news apps (I, as I’m sure many others, have found it difficult to find a normal sleep pattern after the equivocal nature of the pope’s apologies and remarks during his pilgrimage here in Canada) when I found the recent article whereby the pope, on his plane back to the Vatican, told reporters…

“Yes, it’s a genocide.”

After reading the CBC article whereby the Pope said “I condemned it, taking away children, changing culture, the mind, traditions, a so-called race. A whole culture,” I got up immediately to write this blog post. As we learned during this process, Indigenous people are not a monolith, we are a people with our own ways of thinking based on our own experienced and traumas, but this is my point of view this morning after having read that article: the Pope recognizing that Indigenous people in Canada have undergone a genocide, something that the Canadian Parliament refuses to do, makes his trip to Canada worth it.

Originally, I said the apologies were not enough without substantial action, but with the head of the Catholic Church, a world leader (with immense influence on this world) declaring that Indigenous people have undergone a genocide, does indeed, in my books, qualify as substantial first step. Especially with the lackluster responses from Canadians and the Canadian government on the Calls to Justice in the MMIWG final inquiry. Going back to my research, I would add that the genocide of Indigenous people is ongoing due to the virus in our culture handed to us through the residential schools, day schools, and 60s scoop. The virus of shame.

The violence the National Inquiry heard about amounts to a race-based genocide of Indigenous Peoples, including First Nations, Inuit and Métis, which especially targets women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people. This genocide has been empowered by colonial structures, evidenced notably by the Indian Act, the Sixties Scoop, residential schools and breaches of human and Indigenous rights, leading directly to the current increased rates of violence, death, and suicide in Indigenous populations.

“A Legal Analysis of Genocide” National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

My research essay simply adds that the programming instilled in Indigenous people that perpetuates this race-based genocide is the culture of shame. In this context, the Pope is very accurate in when he highlights the changing of culture and the mind. This virus of shame is a complex psychological programming that is nuanced and instilled during early childhood development. I can’t highlight this enough: it is not something anyone can just change overnight. This virus is insidious, it is intergenerational and transgenerational. It is in our blood memory. As children many of us were hardwired to view ourselves as unworthy, our go-to is that we are not good enough because that’s what the nuns and priests said to our grandparents when they were children, and our grandparents might not have said those exact words to us in that way, or perhaps they did, but their parenting styles, especially around discipline, were/are shamed based.

The only solutions I can think of (as a mere undergraduate student) is that Indigenous children need to be taught shame resilience during early childhood development, perhaps as part of their journey through elementary, jr. high and high school as an effort to eradicate the virus of shame. Parents need to be taught the nuances of parental styles that utilize shame, and its devastating consequences. I do workshops on this very subject for Indigenous peoples (as well as consultation on this topic for companies and non-profits wishing to do better for their Indigenous employees) and the most common and heartbreaking remark I hear is from parents, who are usually petrified at the conclusion of my workshops, who say (paraphrasing with emphasis) “I swore I’d never let my children experience intergenerational trauma, but what I’ve learned from this workshop is that I am still handing down that trauma to my children through the shaming messaging that is all too common in my learned vocabulary.”

Conclusion

The Pope’s enlightenment to the fact that Indigenous people have clearly undergone genocide is a better first step than empty apologies. For the Pope to say the G word out loud to media is huge. International law (not to mention, civility) is predicated on common values that we share worldwide. If I could send a message to the world, I would beg that the world look at Canada and recognize the incongruence in the common values of the world regarding war crimes and genocide, and the race-based genocide committed against Indigenous peoples in Canada.

To my family members who have passed on as a result of this race-based genocide, and to my family members who are still alive yet wounded inside, of which a relationship will never be possible. I will never experience the thriving cultures of connection that my ancestors once enjoyed pre-colonization.

My message to Canadians would be: why is it so hard to accept this truth? This week we learned why, because of the Doctrine of Discovery. It would seem that the Catholic Church no longer subscribes or finds validity in that Doctrine, but the Canadian Government held onto the words of that doctrine strongly despite the changes in perception on this topic from the Catholic Church. This would indicate that, yes, genocide occurred to the Indigenous Peoples of Canada, and the Canadian Government grasped at straws, such as the Doctrine of Discovery, in order to justify their culpability in genocide through the Indian Act.

My message to Indigenous peoples would be that the pain you feel from the virus of shame is not your fault. Addiction, violence, death. Indigenous youth are struggling the most with these, where death for them seems to be the only means of escape from the pangs of genocide. This is why the pope’s recognition is important, because it validates that Indigenous peoples are not inherently broken or less than. Accepting that our story includes genocide does not show weakness or shame, it shows resilience and understanding, which can be incredibly healing. It shows that Indigenous people continuing to walk this world is a pure display of resistance to colonization and white supremacy.


References

Brown, Brené. “Shame Resilience Theory: A Grounded Theory Study on Women and Shame.” Families in Societies 87, no. 1 (2006): 43-51.

National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. “Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report.” National Inquiry in Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. 2019.  https://www.mmiwg-ffada.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Final_Report_Vol_1a.pdf.

Tangney, June and Rhonda Dearing. Shame and Guilt. New York: Guilford Press, 2002.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. What We Have Learned: Principles of Truth and Reconciliation. Winnipeg Manitoba: Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015.

Striped Wolf, Spirit River. “Indigenous Genocide by Shame: A Path to Indigenous Self Determination and Success.” stripedwolf.ca (2020).

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