Manitoba residential school survivor pens 10-page handwritten letter to Pope

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

A residential school survivor who wrote a 10-page letter to Pope Francis and gave it to her granddaughter, who is in Rome to film and document the visit by Indigenous groups, says this week has brought up a lot of painful memories.

“I felt so proud. And now I’m scared. Everything is coming back. I couldn’t sleep last night because I thought of everything that happened,” said Esther Moore, who lives in York Factory Cree Nation, located about 850 kilometres north of Winnipeg.

Moore, 70, spent a good portion of her childhood far from home at the Brandon Indian Residential School.

Her granddaughter, Charlene Moore, is an Independent filmmaker who is in Rome this week to film a visit to the Vatican by the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) for a documentary that she will produce.

As Charlene was planning her trip earlier this month, Moore decided that she wanted to write a letter that she could give to her granddaughter to deliver to the Pope, and she asked members in her community if they were interested in writing letters as well.

“I only got three,” Moore said.

“There’s a lot of people that don’t want to … bring it all back. I know it was hard for me when I was writing it because I think that oh, my girls are going to be reading this.”

Moore said that her letter includes details of sexual abuse that she experienced while attending residential school that in the past has been difficult to talk about with her family.

Esther Moore, right, is pictured with her grandchildren. The residential school survivor is proud of her granddaughter for being able to document the papal visit as a filmmaker but said that this week has been difficult for her. (Crystal Moore)

“The fact is that I’m still hating myself. You don’t realize how bad it is until you get older,” Moore said.

Last week she sent the handwritten letters to Winnipeg, where Charlene lives, but unfortunately they weren’t delivered before Monday, when her granddaughter left Canada.

Charlene said the plan is to have her mother scan the handwritten letters in Winnipeg, and then get them printed before the AFN’s meeting on Thursday, so that they can be delivered to the Pope.

Charlene says it is difficult to know that her grandmother is reliving her old residential school experiences but that it is an honour and a responsibility to represent her family and community of York Factory Cree Nation while in Rome.

“It’s because of their support and their love and everything that they’ve built. Their resilience is why I’m here. And so I have so much gratitude to them, to my ancestors, and to my people and to everybody who has helped me,” she said.

Charlene’s mother, Crystal Moore, said Esther Moore has only very recently started to open up about her experiences at residential school.

“I’m proud of my mom. She’s lost so much and endured so much pain, yet she pushes on and tries so hard to heal the generational trauma she has faced, and that’s not easy to do,” Crystal said.

While Moore has spent her life without her traditional culture, Crystal says the family is on a healing journey and that they plan on spending time this year together at ceremonies.


Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools or by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

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