Translators to deliver Pope’s words in languages forbidden in residential schools

EDMONTON – Now that Pope Francis has arrived in Canada and is expected to beg forgiveness for Catholic-run residential schools, a team of translators is dedicated to making sure no words are lost for those receiving the apology.

Henry Pitawanakwat, who comes from the Three Fires Confederacy of Manitoulin Island in Ontario, is on that team and will translate the Pope’s words into the Ojibwa language.

From the late 1800s until 1996, Canada removed Indigenous children from their homes and forced them into institutions run by church staff where they were forbidden from speaking their language.

Pitawanakwat’s mother was a residential school survivor, which he says also impacted him. And he says he suffered abuse and trauma from members of the Jesuits as a youth.

Still, he says it’s important to him not to let his own feelings get in the way as he translates the Pope’s words into a language children were once punished for using.

“I have to set those feelings aside because I’m a professional translator and I will do my due diligence to do a proper translation regardless of what topic is spoken,” Pitawanakwat said in an interview Saturday, a day before the Pope began his Canadian visit in Edmonton.

With experience as an archeologist at Wikwemikong Unceded Territory in Ontario and a curator at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que., Pitawanakwat is a member of the Translation Bureau with the Government of Canada and has translated the federal election debates in 2019 and 2021 and also recently for an APTN series.

Francis, who is from Argentina, speaks Spanish, so Pitawanakwat says another interpreter will translate what the Pope says into English before he and other interpreters translate those words into a dozen Indigenous languages.

Read more: The Toronto Star

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