By Jenna Kunze
For the first time in history, the head of the Catholic Church in Vatican City, Rome, on Friday acknowledged the church’s role in harming more than 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and mestizo children. sent to boarding schools in Canada.
For more than a century, Indigenous children in Canada were forcibly removed from their families to attend residential schools designed to strip them of their language, culture and personality.
In schools, children were often physically and sexually abused, according to testimonies from residential school survivors collected by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada between 2007 and 2015.
In the past nine months alone, more than 1,400 remains of Indigenous children have been found, buried at the sites of former residential schools where children often died of disease, neglect and abuse. The Catholic Church was responsible for running nearly 75% of the 130 residential schools operated in Canada.
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“It’s frightening to think of determined efforts to instill a sense of inferiority in order to rob people of their cultural identity, to cut their roots, and to consider all the personal and social effort that continues to entail: unresolved traumas that have become intergenerational traumas,” Pope Francis addressed the nearly 100-person Canadian Indigenous delegation that traveled to Italy to demand an apology this week. “It all made me feel very strongly two things: indignation and shame.”
The apology comes at the end of a week of meetings with the Canadian Aboriginal delegation of Indian, Inuit and Métis residential school survivors. The meetings had been scheduled since last June, delayed twice by Covid-19, and intended for truth and healing work.
A key part of this truth and healing has been the continued demand for apologies.
In June, in response to the discovery of the remains of 215 Indigenous children in unmarked graves at a former site of a Catholic-run Indian residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia, the Pope expressed his “sadness” over of the shocking discovery”, although his response falls short of guilt.
Leaders of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis Indigenous delegation told a press conference that they felt heard and moved by Pope Francis’ benevolent and empathetic response.
“The apology that was presented was long overdue,” said Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed. “I was touched by the way he expressed his grief, and also the way he condemned the actions of the church.”
Yet, they said, the apology is part of a much bigger picture on the road to reconciliation.
“We keep talking about apologies, but we’ve all been very clear that we have so much more to do,” said Métis National Council President Cassidy Caron. “We look forward to the Pope’s visit and will deliver a similar, if not stronger, message when he arrives in our communities. He was so moved by just these thirty people (whom he met this week) that he is “He felt compelled to apologize. Imagine how he’s going to feel when he comes to our homelands and meets our people, sees our communities, (and) maybe visits some of the residential schools that still represent us.”
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