Pope apologizes for ‘wrong’ at Canada’s residential schools: NPR


Pope Francis delivers a speech during his meeting with Indigenous communities – including First Nations, Métis and Inuit – at Our Lady of Seven Sorrows Catholic Church in Maskwacis, near Edmonton, Canada, on Monday .

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Pope apologizes for 'wrong' at Canada's residential schools: NPR

Pope Francis delivers a speech during his meeting with Indigenous communities – including First Nations, Métis and Inuit – at Our Lady of Seven Sorrows Catholic Church in Maskwacis, near Edmonton, Canada, on Monday .

Gregorio Borgia/AP

Years after a Canadian government-funded commission released findings detailing the history of physical and sexual abuse of Indigenous children in the country’s Catholic boarding schools, Pope Francis on Monday issued an apology on Canadian soil.

“I’m sorry,” the pope said, speaking in Maskwacis, Alta., on the lands of four Cree nations.

‘I humbly ask forgiveness for the wrong done by so many Christians against Indigenous people,’ Francis said near the site of the former Ermineskin Indian Residential School, where ground-penetrating radar was used to try to locate the graves. names of deceased students. while attending school.

Thousands of children have died in schools, but the true number may never be known

Pope apologizes for 'wrong' at Canada's residential schools: NPR

Pope Francis visits the Ermineskin Cree Nation Cemetery in Maskwacis, south of Edmonton, in western Canada, on Monday.

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Pope apologizes for 'wrong' at Canada's residential schools: NPR

Pope Francis visits the Ermineskin Cree Nation Cemetery in Maskwacis, south of Edmonton, in western Canada, on Monday.

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Residential schools forcibly separated Aboriginal children from their parents as part of an effort to convert them to Christianity and assimilate them into broader Canadian culture. A total of 150,000 children from Canada’s First Nations tribes were placed in 139 government-operated schools – most by the Catholic Church – over a 150-year period.

A 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission report inspired by the harrowing accounts of survivors concluded that “[children] were abused, physically and sexually, and died in schools in numbers that would not have been tolerated in any school system anywhere in the country. »

The schools were designed “not to educate” Indigenous children, “but primarily to sever their connection to their culture and identity,” the report said. He concluded that the establishment and operation of the schools “can best be described as ‘cultural genocide'”.

Officially, 4,120 children have died while being cared for in schools, mostly from diseases such as rampant tuberculosis, according to government statistics. But the estimates go much further. The commission, in its report, acknowledged that the true number “will probably never be known in full.”

Last year, the unmarked graves of 215 children were found on land formerly occupied by the Kamloops Indian Residential School. At one time it was the largest boarding school in Canada with 500 students enrolled in the 1950s.

Pope’s apology is historic, but there is still frustration with the church

Pope apologizes for 'wrong' at Canada's residential schools: NPR

A member of the Indigenous community helps display the Memorial Banner, which was the first national public record of the names of children who did not return from residential schools across Canada.

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Pope apologizes for 'wrong' at Canada's residential schools: NPR

A member of the Indigenous community helps display the Memorial Banner, which was the first national public record of the names of children who did not return from residential schools across Canada.

Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Earlier this year, Francis expressed “his shame and sadness” for the role of the Catholic Church in the abuses and for the “disrespect” for indigenous cultures and their values.

The pope’s apology on Monday is “an important first step toward reconciliation and acknowledgment of the intergenerational trauma” caused by the schools, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples national leader Elmer St. Pierre said in a statement.

“After failed attempts and a lack of will, it is time for the Catholic Church to make the necessary investments to help individuals and communities heal,” St. Pierre said.

Canada has paid billions of dollars to Indigenous communities in a settlement with some 90,000 residential school survivors. The Catholic Church in Canada says its dioceses and religious orders have already given $50 million to the tribes and expects another $30 million in the coming years.

Carol McBride, president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, said she hopes the Pope’s apology will start a dialogue between the Church and First Nations that will lead to the release of school records and the return of tribal artifacts. who she says reside in the Vatican. . The Holy See insists the headdresses, carved walrus tusks and other items were gifts to Pius XI, who was pope from 1922 until his death in 1939.

“I just can’t understand why they don’t want to release these files,” McBride said. “And the same goes for the artifacts. These are the artifacts of our First Nations and Indigenous peoples. Why are they sitting there in the Vatican? Why aren’t they here?”

She says she welcomes the Pope’s apology, but recognizes “a lot of mixed emotions at this point, where some people are happy with the visit and the intention and [others don’t] want to hear about it at all.”

On Monday, the Pope expressly asked for forgiveness for “the projects of cultural destruction and forced assimilation promoted by the governments of the time”.

More than 350 similar boarding schools—about a third run by various Christian denominations—operated in the United States until the last of them closed in the 1970s. From a century before, indigenous children were sent to these off-reserve schools, where they were forbidden to speak their native language and instead forced to use English.

Last year, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the nation’s first Native American Cabinet Secretary, commissioned a review of the school system for Native children in the United States. The survey has already identified marked or unmarked burial sites in around 53 schools, according to the Home Office.


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