His face is shown by video on the screen, despite the Covid contract a few days earlier. The first woman elected grand chief of the Cree Nation of Eeyou istchee – which has eleven communities spread over 99 villages, mostly in Quebec’s Far North – Mandy Gull-Masty, 42, is easy-going, far from what could leave her dreading the many responsibilities devolves upon him at the head of this gigantic territory of nearly 20,000 inhabitants. “Our nation is especially mentioned because the first Catholic boarding school for aboriginal children in Quebec (Fort George, today Chisasibi, editor’s note) opened its doors in 1930 on our site. Today, we still have many of his survivors in our communities,” she remembers.
“There was also a recent announcement that excavations would be initiated to verify that there are no unknown graves on the ground”, she continues, while the discoveries in recent years of hundreds of anonymous burials of children near such places have caused a real shock wave in the country. The history of the abuses committed in these establishments – largely run between 1831 and 1996 by the Catholic Church, which then welcomed children torn from their families to be “assimilated” into Euro-Canadian culture – this energetic brunette from Waswanipi knows her well.
Not because she herself joined their ranks, but because her grandmother and her mother lived there for many years. The first in three different institutions, in Ontario and Quebec, the second with four of her brothers and sisters in La Tuque, north of Trois-Rivières, a boarding school located under the management of the Anglican Church.
“My mother arrived there in 1968, aged 9. She remembers her father telling her: “You have to go or I won’t be allowed to work.” There was a lot of pressure on the family, she says. She never really wanted to talk about the violence she experienced, but she told me that she had seen children fighting with each other several times, sometimes for food. » The memory of the story of a punishing march of 16 kilometers, in the heat and without water, still appears in the transition.
“My grandmother also told me that the day she left for school, her mother combed her hair, dressed her in a dress, put on her shoes and told her that ‘we had to dress up for this important day. Arriving there, they tore her dress and cut her hair. They told her she was dirty, she didn’t understand what was going on. She thinks she was only 4 or 5 years old at the time. ..”, she is still unfolding.
One of his grandmothers sister will die there of tuberculosis in the Quebec hospital. Challenging, these life stories have left scars between the generations. “After that, my mother – although I know she loved me – did not show much affection. That’s something I’ve been careful to do well with my children: to express them, to show them my feelings.” continues the one who has four, including the first born at age 14.
“We tried to cut off our elders from their culture, from their identity, and today I am very proud that we continue to speak Cree. » Mandy Gull-Masty assures her that she has worked hard to try to recover the traditional idiom that she seeks above all to preserve: “I already spoke a little with my grandparents, but my mother spoke English to me when I was little. With my work I had to strengthen the language and I am proud of everything I learned to express! »
Today, the politician – a graduate in public affairs and political studies from Concordia University’s School of Community and Public Affairs – has made the defense of the rights of his people one of the priorities of his mandate.
As such, in late March and early April, she was part of the delegation that Pope Francis received in Rome. And for her visit to the country, she admits to understanding how it could happen: “There is a risk that it will reinforce the divisions if people come to see the Pope without understanding or hearing that it is first and foremost a pilgrimage that asks for forgiveness for our peoples. » And to share one last confidential conviction: We must ensure that the younger generations are included in the reconciliation process in the future.