By Stephen Hendrie
Martha Greig was taught growing up, “Whatever wrongdoing is done to me, I have to forgive for me to be OK, that I don’t dwell with the hardship that I went through, for me to be OK mentally and spiritually, to still live and not have revenge, though you will not forget. So, in my life that’s how I have done it, so I can cope.”
She attended a residential school in Churchill, Manitoba in 1967-1968 and was sexually abused there. It is a remarkable story because she forgave, and says she gained experience on how to deal with it herself. She also became involved in the issue of mental wellness, and it developed into her career. Through the decades she has spoken on the issue and provided direct mental wellness support during extremely traumatic hearings for Inuit. Notable were the special hearings held by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples on the High Arctic Exiles in Ottawa in 1996. Martha was there to console Inuit giving testimony.
Similarly, during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) national events, Martha provided counselling to victims who publicly gave testimony of their experiences at the schools. More recently during the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls National Inquiry, she did the same.
So, it was a blessing that she was invited to be on the Inuit delegation to the Vatican in late March and early April 2022, for an audience with Pope Francis. The visit by Inuit, Métis, and First Nations delegations had been postponed from December 2021 because of the global coronavirus pandemic.
Martha was invited to be a support worker to the Inuit delegation, but she also became a delegate, and in this way, she was able to speak to the Pope directly for five minutes – along with the other Inuit delegates – on Monday March 28.
She describes what that meeting was like. “Pope Francis was greeting us with the Bishops. We shook his hand. We sat down. We were on the right side of the room. The Bishops were on the left. The Pope was in front with his chair in a semi-circle. Rhoda Ungalaq lit the qulliq. We all spoke one by one. Natan (Obed) did the closing remarks. And then the Holy Father spoke. You could tell that he had listened to us. He had genuinely listened, that’s how I felt.”
Asked about what she said during her five minutes Martha says, “First of all I was very humbled and honoured to have the opportunity to meet with him. I told him I was a former residential school student, and that I was a lay reader for the Anglican Church in Kuujjuaq. I told him about my involvement with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, with all the former students. I said that people are hurting for too long, and they need an apology, and not just an apology, but they need resources, because there has to be healing, and there has to be forgiveness on both parts – the victims and the perpetrators – for people to heal.”
Asked if Inuit in all Nunavik communities were affected by the residential schools, Martha explained he nature of the trauma. “Inuit are affected in many ways, such as losing their culture, loss of parental skills – they lack that when they are raising their kids. It’s intergenerational trauma this is into our children and our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren. That’s why I emphasize that there needs to be forgiveness on both parts, because it takes too long. As a frontline worker we have to have patience for the former students to start talking about this because it’s too painful. Some of them are still not talking about it. Instead of talking, they’re still doing addictive stuff, which further delays the healing process. So that’s why I said there’s a need for resources.”
Media reports of the delegation to Rome indicated they were working on an apology on Canadian soil, and that the audience with the Pope was to allow for Inuit, Métis, and First Nations to tell the Pope directly what they had experienced, individually and collectively. Each group had a private audience with Pope Francis – Inuit and Métis on Monday, and the First Nations on Thursday.
On Friday April 2nd, all delegations met with the Pope together. In a ceremony punctuated by Inuit drum dancing by David Serkoak, Métis fiddlers, and First Nations dancing, Pope Francis delivered a lengthy reply to all delegations, which included a direct apology, unexpected at this time.
“It was very overwhelming to be in the room at that time,” said Martha. “I couldn’t help but think of the victims. A lot of people are hurting. Many who wanted to hear are no longer alive. That was heavy and at the same time uplifting to hear. He didn’t just say ‘I am sorry,’ he said, ‘I am very, very sorry.’ I myself, even as a support worker, I got emotional as well.”
All members of the delegations were given copies of the speech. Martha read out the passage with the apology, “All these things are contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, for the deplorable conduct of those members of the Catholic Church, I ask for God’s forgiveness, and I want to say to you with all my heart: I am very sorry. And I join my brothers, the Canadian bishops in asking your pardon.”
Martha says she would have the apology translated into Inuktitut and read it at the church in Kuujjuaq. She granted a lengthy interview to Taqralik Magazine the week after returning from Rome. We thank her for her story, allowing us to experience the trip to the Vatican through her eyes. Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Canada to apologize on Canadian soil from July 24 – 30, 2022. He will visit Iqaluit, Nunavut, during the visit.