Former Vancouver Canuck Gino Odjick, an Algonquin from Maniwaki, Que., said that being at the Vatican this week to hear the Pope express his sorrow for the “anguish” Canadian Aboriginals suffered in residential schools was bigger than any hockey game he’s ever played.

Odjick, a Canuck for eight years, said he remembers a time at about age 14 when he stepped on the ice, looked at the non-native kids and felt inferior.

“I used to look up to NHL players and it was like they could walk on water,” Odjick said from Italy on Thursday. “I didn’t think native kids could ever get there.”


At 20 Odjick got there when the Canucks selected him in the 1990 NHL entry draft.

“I felt inferior until (coach) Pat Quinn told me to be proud of who I am and to lift my head up,” he said. “That’s when I realized that it doesn’t matter if you’re white, black or Chinese. We’re all human beings and given the chance, if you’re ready and willing, we can all succeed in life.”

A private mass was held on Thursday morning for the roughly 20 Canadian Aboriginal leaders, residential school survivors and church leaders. Odjick said it was “powerful and touching.”

“We talked about it afterwards,” he said. “That’s the biggest emotion I felt here. Just that we were invited to sit there tells me we, First Nations, can trust the church now. We don’t have to be afraid to let our children go anywhere near the church.”

Odjick’s father is a residential school survivor. His tone became more intense when asked about it.

He said it’s time for non-aboriginals to learn more about this part of our history.

“They took five-year-old children from their parents and arrested the parents if they resisted,” he said. “It wasn’t the church that arrested the parents, it was the RCMP.”

Although the Pope’s statement didn’t include an official apology, Odjick said that members of the Canadian group who met with the Pontiff told him the Pope’s words and body language seemed like a genuine apology.

“It’s time to forgive, time to heal and time to move forward as a group,” Odjick said.

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