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Cree singer reflects on ‘speaking the law’ to Pope Francis

ANNA MEHLER PAPERNY

A Cree woman who captured global attention with her anguished song before Pope Francis on Monday said she was moved to do so when he donned a gifted feathered headdress without first removing his skullcap – something she saw as disrespectful.

Si Pih Ko, a Cree woman from Manitoba, stood in her beaded regalia and belted out an ancient Cree song – “Our village” – with a rhythm similar to the Canadian national anthem as tears streamed down her face.

“He didn’t remove his law before allowing our law to be placed on his head,” she told Reuters by phone from Winnipeg, adding the pope could have given the headdress back instead.

Shaking with emotion, Si Pih Ko, 45, ended her song with a statement on indigenous law, fist raised, before turning her back and walking away.

As she sang, Francis stood and watched. The pontiff is in Canada to apologize to indigenous people for abuse in government schools run by the Roman Catholic church.

The poignancy of singing before the pope in a language priests and nuns beat indigenous children for speaking was not lost on her, Si Pih Ko said.

“It felt good, being able to just sing it and speak it. And he could not destroy it in me.”

She said she had wanted to be at the event in Maskwacis, Alberta, not to hear the pope’s apology but “to have that opportunity to speak the law to him. No apology will ever make things right.”

She said she knew she would be “speaking the law” to the pope somehow but added: “I didn’t think it would be right in the centre, hand up like that.”

She said that in her mind as she sang were the indigenous women, men and children who would never come home.

“Everyone who lost their lives fighting against the system, with all odds against them, that’s who I was there for.”