Editor’s Note: The Assembly of First Nations said Tuesday the delegation that was travelling to Rome has been postponed because of the new Omicron variant of COVID-19. A new date has not been set.
An area residential school survivor heading to the Vatican to meet Pope Francis says she will ask him for an apology.
If she gets it, Marlene Cloud, 80, would be the first survivor to receive an in-person apology from the head of the Roman Catholic Church.
“We were abused and robbed of our childhood,” said Cloud, a Kettle and Stony Point resident who spent six years at the Mohawk Institute in Brantford.
“Why wouldn’t he apologize?”
The Assembly of First Nations chose Cloud to represent Ontario as one of 13 Indigenous delegates headed to the Vatican Dec. 17 – 20. The AFN says the meeting is the next step in completing Truth and Reconciliation Commission Call to Action #58, which calls on the Pope to issue an apology to survivors.
The Pontiff agreed to meet with three groups of Indigenous survivors – First Nations, Metis and Inuit – ahead of his planned visit to Canada next year and amid growing pressure for a papal apology for the Church’s role in running residential schools.
“I found out about a month ago and said to myself, that can’t be true,” said Cloud. “I am scared to go, because I’ve never been in a plane. But I am OK meeting the Pope. It’s overwhelming but it’s also an honour.”
Cloud was just six in 1947 when she and five siblings were forced to leave their Kettle and Stony Point home.
“We had no choice, and after a few years it felt like being in jail,” she said. “The people who were supposed to look after us carried around big straps and just whacked us all the time.”
One time, she was strapped across the back for opening a school window, she said
“I was only six years old. We’d get strapped for being too loud, and for using our native language. That was the biggest thing.”
An older sister, Edna, died of tuberculosis while at the school, and when Cloud finally returned home she also had TB. She spent the next two years at a London sanatorium and didn’t return home permanently until she was 14.
By that time she could no longer speak her native tongue.
“I want an apology, because we should not have been treated like that,” she said. “They called us little heathens. We were only children.”
Kettle and Stony Point Chief Jason Henry said he’s proud that she is meeting the Pope.
Cloud was the lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit initiated 20 years ago (Cloud v Canada) that sought damages from the Diocese of Huron, the Missionary Society that ran the Mohawk Institute from 1922 to 1969, and the Canadian government.
She said the plaintiffs won but received only about $10,000 each.
“Marlene’s a strong voice and an example of how we can stand up and overcome generational traumas from the schools,” Chief Henry said in a recorded community update.
Her trip to the Vatican is good news, he said, and “will bring healing, not only to Marlene and her family, but help bring healing to our community and other indigenous survivors across Ontario and Canada.”
Cloud’s daughters Joanna Cloud and Deanna Bressette will accompany their mother.
“They’re searching the grounds at Mohawk Institute right now for children’s unmarked graves,” said Bressette.
“My mom had friends that went missing, and she was told they just ran away.
I think an apology is a long time coming.”