Translator hopes Pope’s visit results in support for Indigenous language revitalization

Henry Pitawanakwat says working on the papal tour is no easy task because of some of the painful memories it brings up.

“It brought about a lot of triggers,” he says. “It brought about a lot of issues that I’ve suppressed in the past.”

Pitawanakwat is one of 20 interpreters working out of Ottawa this week translating the Pope’s visit to Canada into various Indigenous languages for broadcast.

A member of the Three Fires Confederacy, he is fluent in Pottawatami, Odawa, Algonquin and Chippewa.

But for purposes of the papal visit, Pitawanakwat is one of two people providing Ojibway translation for viewers around the world.

He says he didn’t attend residential school but his mother did and admits it is with some misgivings that he decided to participate in the Pope’s visit.

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Pitawanakwat explains for him it is all about gaining much-needed support for Indigenous language revitalization.

“This apology to me does not mean anything to me. It is only a word in the English language. If action is included, then I will accept the apology. I want some retribution from the Jesuit society. I want some help, support to bring our culture and our language back.”

He says it has been an exciting opportunity to connect with other Indigenous translators from all over the country.

And as difficult as things may get, it is comforting to know there are other shoulders to lean on for support.

“We’ve been doing some healing circles, sharing circles,” Pitawanakwat says. “Sharing our experiences. It is very important because when you’re in a grieving state when you’re traumatized, you always believe it’s only you. You want to pull yourself out and go and sit in a corner somewhere. You don’t realize that you have similar problems as your other co-translators.

“But once you share it, you bring that closeness in.”

In an emailed statement to APTN, Crown-Indigenous Relations says the federal government is providing $2 million to translate the Pope’s visit into 12 different Indigenous languages.

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