Safety, prayer and comfort.
A sacred fire is burning throughout the Pope’s reconciliation trip to Canada to give residential school survivors in Winnipeg a place to find solace for their grief.
“This place is here for people like me to share my story and, hopefully, I can help people who went through the same thing,” said Christina Kitchekesik, a health support worker with Anish Corp., who is also a residential school survivor.
RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
“This place is here for people like me to share my story and, hopefully, I can help people who went through the same thing,” said Christina Kitchekesik.
“This is a place anyone can come and offer prayers. It’s a safe environment and we have a lot of support to offer. I’m glad I’m here because it’s been an emotional week,” she said.
Three Indigenous organizations are hosting the fire at the parking lot behind 1075 Portage Ave.: Anish, the Wa-Say Healing Centre and Aboriginal Health and Wellness Centre of Winnipeg. It’s open to all and offers support to residential school survivors.
Pope Francis delivered an apology on Monday in Alberta for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in residential schools.
Kitchekesik said there were mixed emotions about the apology, but she hopes it will create change.
“I felt a bit angry, but I acknowledged my emotion. I asked my creator to help me have the strength to get through this and be an example for other survivors.”
Kitchekesik, 71, spent 14 years in the residential school system and said it took years for her to acknowledge and start to recover from trauma she endured. She hopes she can talk to other survivors who need support.
“I’m not ashamed to share my story. There are a lot of support systems now when there used to be nothing. It’s a long process and it’s not easy. Everyone is at a different level of healing and some still don’t want to talk about it.”
The gathering started with an opening ceremony on Monday, includes daily sacred fires and drum songs and will close Friday with a ceremony and feast.
Visitors are given traditional medicine and a T-shirt by support staff.
Kitchekesik hopes similar gatherings are held to support survivors.