Residential Schools and Turtle Eggs

Indian Residential Schools and Canadians.

We did not notice enough!
We did not think enough!
We did not feel enough!
We did not care enough!
We did not do enough!

On hearing the horrific news of 215 children 
who died away from their families, and whose remains were buried 
in unmarked graves outside a residential school, 
we fall on our knees in repentance.  

 From a place within us of deep sadness, we sing ever so humbly, 
“Father, I have sinned.  
I have closed my heart to those in need, 
thought only of myself, 
a victim of my greed.”

Then nature speaks to us.
this too, we are finally learning.
We and Creation are one.  
Creation notices and cares about us.
And so, Creation speaks.  

At the time of this horrific news, 
an eagle dropped a large feather 
on the holy ground of the Martyrs Shrine.  
The eagle is a messenger from God.  
The feather must have been causing her pain, 
and so she yanked it out with her beak and sent it down to us.  
We yank out aching teeth from our mouths.  
And we pull the baby tooth from a child’s mouth, 
so that a stronger, more mature adult tooth might replace it.  
What are you telling us, oh eagle, 
we who live on this land made holy 
by the great love the Jesuit martyrs had for the Huron-Wendat nations? 
What do we yank out?  
How do we yank out this deep pain from the people of our land? 

At the time of this horrific news,
turtles have been coming up from the riverbank 
to lay their eggs in the sand of these holy grounds.  
But before the sun dawns the next day, predators come  
and eat up these eggs, scattering the shells all over the sand 
that was chosen to be a safe place to be born.  
By putting a caution marker around the nest where some of the eggs 
were buried in the sand of a little road, we tried to protect them 
from the wheels of the tractor and truck. 
But the predators were too determined.  
During the night, they ate and scattered 
the tiny white shells all over the ground around the nest. 
How very sad the turtle must feel!

At the time of this horrific news, 
five hawks who guard the Shrine grounds from scavengers 
circled our offices and residence.  
We are five Jesuits who live and work here. 
What were they saying to us?  What were the turtles saying? 
What was the eagle saying?  
Could they all be saying,

 Listen, listen, listen! Listen with your heart.  
“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly.” 
(Antoine de Saint Exupéry)

Acknowledge your sins against the Indigenous peoples. REPENT! 
“But I was not yet born when all of this took place.” 
Yes, but you are part of the team that benefited.  
You are part of the group who did not care enough.  
You still don’t care enough.  
These children cried and you have not heard.  
Indigenous children continue to cry 
for clean drinking water, 
for schooling nearby, for freedom from prejudice, 
for respect for their culture.  
They have so much to offer the world.  
Will you finally receive it?

As the late Knowledge Keeper Noel Starblanket said, 
“You say, ‘But I did not know.’  
Well now you know.  Now that you have heard it, 
you cannot unhear it.  
Now that you have seen it, you cannot unsee it. 
There is no innocence now that you have heard it, 
now that you have seen it.  
Now that you have seen it, you must do something about it 
(and of course, always hand in hand with Indigenous people). 
Now that you have seen it, 
you are held accountable in the eyes of God.”

Robert Foliot, SJ is working in pastoral ministry at Martyr's Shrine, Midland and at St. Francis Xavier Mission on Christian Island.

  • John Montague
    Posted at 08:19h, 17 June Reply

    Beautiful testimony.

  • Paulv
    Posted at 08:25h, 17 June Reply

    Wow… powerful words….Jesus Christ son of the living God have mercy on me a sinner

  • Sharon Walters
    Posted at 08:26h, 17 June Reply

    Thank you Father Foliot.

  • Sharon Walters
    Posted at 08:27h, 17 June Reply

    Thank you Father Foliot

  • Chantal Balthazar
    Posted at 09:15h, 17 June Reply

    Thank you Robert. I feel these words in the depths of my being. Thank you for expressing it so beautifully.

  • Catherine von Zuben
    Posted at 11:17h, 17 June Reply

    Thank you Father Bert for sharing your deep emotion of sadness, pain, guilt and love for those Indigenous thousands of children who suffered much pain in residential schools over many years here in our beloved country of Canada. As a child I well remember hearing my father speak of the privilege these ‘fortunate’ children were being given to be educated in our government sponsored schools and I too remember the pain and concern expressed on the face of my precious mother quite in disagreement with my father’s belief.

    We now know; we now have seen; we now have heard and we will do something – we will take action. “Listening to Indigenous Voices” – a dialogue guide on Justice and Right Relationships, will be the text we will use as we invite others to join our group at Manresa beginning in the early Fall and to be found on their website. Thank you for your powerful words so beautifully expressed.

  • Maria Skarzynski
    Posted at 11:27h, 17 June Reply

    How very beautiful this poem is – so well thought out and full of heart. I will put it on my wall but wish it could go much, much wider to all of us. Thank you Father – I have been to Midland and will never forget it.

  • Elizabeth Bryant
    Posted at 12:31h, 17 June Reply

    Thank you Father Foliot for your thoughtful and kind words – such a powerful poem. Another tragedy here on Turtle Island. And we’ll all get through it with the help of my mother, the Immaculate Virgin and all the Elders who pray with her in heaven. Oh God come to our aid. Make haste to help us!

  • Peter LeBlanc
    Posted at 13:29h, 17 June Reply

    Thank you, Bert. Thank you for reminding us that there is more to the story of indigenous relations than the tragedy in Kamloops. More than most you know it began four hundred years ago on the same sacred ground where you and so many others carry out your ministry. God bless. Peter.

  • Patricia Russell
    Posted at 14:10h, 17 June Reply

    Thank you very much for this beautiful soulful expression. It touches deeply and I will keep it close at hand.

  • Joan Cassidy
    Posted at 15:58h, 17 June Reply

    Thank you, Father, for this so very beautiful and thoughtfully written words.. For failing to listen and to hear the hurts and feel others pain, we ask God’s & the Indigenous Peoples for forgiveness. We also ask for grace to forgive ourselves.
    This poem was sincerely “hand-in-hand” with your most meaningful & emotional homily on Sunday.
    I pray that we all will be ready, endowed with the grace of noticing God in our daily life, to share God’s love with everyone we meet.
    God Bless, Father.

  • Peter Bisson
    Posted at 01:35h, 18 June Reply

    Thank you so much Bert!

  • Joanne O’Regan, csm
    Posted at 07:41h, 18 June Reply

    Thank you Fr. Bert.

  • Thomas Bonic
    Posted at 16:45h, 18 June Reply

    Bert, you clearly outline our sins of omission in the first 5 lines, “We did not……..”, and I love the parable of the turtles, something Jackie and I experienced first hand in the Galapagos. You write, “They have so much to give, are we able to receive it?” Bert, this was my sin at L’Arche in 1972. I was going to be the “Canadian Jesuit giver” to handicapped boys and girls, men and women, but in the end, fortunately, they got to me, got me to listen, listen, listen until I found my own handicap and then finally we were “even Steven”! I owe all of them so much. Like Abraham Heschel said, “I have only one prayer gratitude”! Thank you Bert

  • Charles Pottie
    Posted at 18:31h, 18 June Reply

    Bert, thanks for this moving reflection and the call to conversion and to change our minds, hearts, feelings, actions to stop these injustices.
    Charlie P

  • John Meehan
    Posted at 22:33h, 19 June Reply

    Thanks for this beautiful reflection, Bert. And thanks for quoting my dear friend, Noel Starblanket. I still miss him and he had so much to teach about reconciliation as right relationships.

  • Mark Aurelian
    Posted at 08:34h, 25 June Reply

    Deeds, not words.

    What should an observant Catholic *do* now to atone for these transgressions?

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