As the sun set over Rome, Lorelei Williams calmly watched the steady stream of tourists flock to the Colosseum, where warriors fought to the death in front of tens of thousands of spectators.
Wrapped in a blood-red silk cape and her black hair neatly braided, she was in Italy to witness a historic event, one she had come all the way from Canada to be a part of.
Lorelei is a Salish/Coast Salish from the Skatin Nations/Sts’Ailes, near Vancouver, British Columbia. When a delegation of First Nations, Inuit and Metis representatives invited to Rome to meet with Pope Francis, Lorelei knew she had to be there too. So she took time off work and paid for the trip herself. For Lorelei, it was a way to honor her late parents.
The delegates were there to ask the Pope to apologize for the role of the Catholic Church in residential schools in canada – Church-run, federally funded institutions that operated from the late 19th century to 1996 with the goal of forcibly assimilating indigenous children.
More than 150,000 Aboriginal children across Canada were uprooted from their families and communities and forced to attend schools where physical, sexual, emotional and spiritual abuse was rife.
Lorelei’s parents were among them.
Thousands of children died in schools.and although Lorelei’s parents survived, she believes the trauma her mother suffered at her residential school ultimately killed her.
That was why it was so important for her to be in Rome.
“This is something I needed to see with my own eyes,” he said quietly. “For the children, for the disappeared and murdered, and for my parents, I felt I needed to be here.”