Days after meeting the Indigenous leaders of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis delegations, Pope Francis tendered an apology on Friday (April 1) for the “cultural genocide of indigenous children committed by the Catholic Church in Canadian residential schools”.
In a tweet, the Head of the worldwide Catholic church said, “I feel shame for the role that a number of Catholics with educational responsibilities have had in the abuse and lack of respect for the identity, culture and spiritual values of the Indigenous Peoples in Canada. “
He claimed that the actions of the Church in the residential schools, meant for indigenous children, were against the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I feel shame for the role that a number of Catholics with educational responsibilities have had in the abuse and lack of respect for the identity, culture and spiritual values of the Indigenous Peoples in Canada. All these things are contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) April 1, 2022
Pope Francis further stated, “Listening to the voices of the brothers and sisters of the Indigenous Peoples of Canada, I heard the suffering, hardship, discrimination and various forms of abuse experienced, particularly in the residential schools. I bear these stories with great sorrow in my heart.”
Listening to the voices of the brothers and sisters of the Indigenous Peoples of Canada, I heard the suffering, hardship, discrimination and various forms of abuse experienced, particularly in the residential schools. I bear these stories with great sorrow in my heart.— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) April 1, 2022
“For the deplorable conduct of those members of the Catholic Church, I ask for God’s forgiveness and I want to say to you with all my heart: I am very sorry. And I join my brothers, the Canadian bishops, in asking your pardon,” he said in a statement.
It must be mentioned that Pope Francis did not apologise and instead expressed sorrow after mass graves of indigenous children were initially unearthed from the compound of former residential schools in Canada in 2021.
On June 6 last year, he said, “I join the Canadian Bishops and the whole Catholic Church in Canada in expressing my closeness to the Canadian people, who have been traumatized by this shocking news. This sad discovery further heightens awareness of the pain and sufferings of the past.”
He emphasised, “We commend to the Lord the souls of all the children who have died in the Canadian residential schools, and we pray for the grief-stricken indigenous families and communities of Canada.”
Earlier, in April 2009, Pope Benedict had also expressed sorrow over the abuse of indigenous children in the Canadian residential school system. However, he refused to acknowledge the church’s involvement in the abuse. The recent move by Pope Francis marks a departure from the ‘shallow’ condemnation of his predecessors
The statement issued by Justin Trudeau
Following the Papal apology, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau applauded the survivors, for their continued advocacy in holding the Catholic Church accountable for its actions. Although Trudeau himself fought against compensation to indigenous children, he claimed that the apology was long due.
Trudeau remarked, “This week, First Nations, Inuit, and Métis leaders, Survivors, and youth travelled to the Vatican to continue urging the Catholic Church for an apology, which was an immense display of bravery and determination. This apology would not have happened without the Survivors who told their truths directly to one of the institutions responsible and recounted and relived their painful memories.
“Canada’s history will forever be stained by the tragic reality of the residential school system, which forcibly separated at least 150,000 Indigenous children from their families and communities, often at great distances, where they were prohibited from practising their culture and traditions and speaking their languages. For Survivors, their families, and communities, the painful legacy of the residential school system lives with them every day,” he added.
This apology is an important step forward, as we must acknowledge the truth of our past in order to move towards righting historical wrongs. We now look forward to the Pope coming to Canada to deliver the apology in person.— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) April 1, 2022
“Today’s apology is a step forward in acknowledging the truth of our past. We cannot separate the legacy of the residential school system from the institutions that created, maintained, and operated it, including the Government of Canada and the Catholic Church,” he added.
“Today’s apology will resurface strong emotions of hurt and trauma for many. The government will continue to support Indigenous communities across the country with the funding and resources they need to continue to search for unmarked burial sites, uncover the truth of what happened at residential schools, and continue on their healing journey,” Trudeau further emphasised.
Indigenous children, mass graves, and the Church-backed residential school system
According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), a large number of indigenous children that attended residential schools never made it back to their home communities. Some children ran away while others died at the schools. These students are now called the “Missing Children”.
The Missing Children Project documents and deaths and burial sites of such children who died while attending the residential schools. So far, the project has identified over 4,100 children who died while attending a residential school.
On May 27 last year, Rosanne Casimir, Chief of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Kukpi7 confirmed that the remains of 215 children were found at the premises of Kamloops Indian Residential School.
The news that remains were found at the former Kamloops residential school breaks my heart – it is a painful reminder of that dark and shameful chapter of our country’s history. I am thinking about everyone affected by this distressing news. We are here for you. https://t.co/ZUfDRyAfET— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) May 28, 2021
In the official statement, Casimir said, “We had a knowing in our community that we were able to verify. To our knowledge, these missing children are undocumented deaths.” He further added that some of the students were as young as three years old when they died. “
About 751 graves were found in Saskatchewan on June 24, 2021. Two weeks later on July 12, the Penelakut tribe informed that it had discovered 160 unmarked graves in the Southern Gulf Islands in the British Columbia province of Canada.
The unmarked graves are a testimony of a painful past where the government and Christian churches inflicted atrocities against the native population. As anger and pain spread among the First Nation people, five churches built on Indigenous land were burnt down.
In a report published in 2015 after a six-year investigation into the now-defunct system, it was termed as “cultural genocide”. The report documented horrific details of abuse, rape, malnutrition and other atrocities suffered by the students who attended the school. As many as 150,000 were known to have attended the school system between the 1840s and 1990s.