Pope apologizes for schools abusing indigenous children in Canada

MOSCOW, Alberta — Pope Francis offered a direct apology to indigenous peoples in Canada on Monday on their land, meeting a key demand from many survivors of church-run residential schools that were abused, Forced assimilation became the terrible centers of cultural destruction. Death for more than a century.

“I humbly ask for forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against indigenous people,” Francis told a large crowd of indigenous people near the site of a former residential school in Alberta. Some of them were wearing traditional clothes and headdresses. .

The pope delivered his message in a pow-wow circle, a covered ring around an open space used for traditional dancing and drumming. It was surrounded by teepees, campfires and booths labeled “Mental Health and Cultural Support.”

Francis added that his remarks were aimed at “every indigenous community and individual” and said a sense of “shame” had lingered since he apologized to representatives of indigenous peoples at the Vatican in April.

Before his speech, Francis visited a cemetery where local indigenous people believe children were buried in unmarked graves.

He said he was “very apologetic” – a comment that prompted applause and shouts of approval – for the ways in which “many Christians have supported the colonial mentality of the powers that oppress indigenous peoples. of.”

“I’m sorry,” he continued. “I apologize, in particular, for the ways in which many members of the Church and religious communities contributed, at least through their indifference, to the plans of cultural destruction and forced assimilation carried out by the governments of the day. promoted by, culminating in the system of residential schools.”

The pope is on a six-day visit to Canada, including a visit to Lock City on Tuesday. Anne, a pilgrimage site sacred to many indigenous peoples, and meetings with indigenous and church representatives in Quebec City and the arctic city of Iqaluit, local leaders and prominent politicians seeking a Vatican apology for abusive schools. So come after years of requests.

The school system was designed to erase local culture and language by forcibly separating children from their families and assimilating them to Western ways.

The Vatican’s apology came years after formal apologies from the Canadian government, which established the system, and from Protestant churches that operated a small number of schools.

Physical, sexual, and mental abuse was common in schools, which restricted local languages ​​and cultural practices, often through violence. Christianity was used for generations as a weapon to subjugate the natives.

Christian churches operated most of the schools for the government, with Catholic orders responsible for 60 to 70 percent of the approximately 130 schools that operated from 1870 to 1996.

Monday’s apology, while a centerpiece of the trip, was also a jumping-off point for what the Vatican hopes will be a closer and more cooperative relationship, in which the church is one of reconciliation, rather than just complaint. It can become a power.

Francis, who suffers from knee pain and sciatica and arrived at the event in a wheelchair, said it was “right to remember” what happened in a place where such trauma took place, even That even from the risk of opening old wounds.

“It’s important to remember how integration policies,” he said, “including the residential school system, were disastrous for the people of these lands.” “I thank you for appreciating it,” Francis added.

He described these abuses, often carried out with missionary zeal, as a “catastrophic mistake” that destroyed the indigenous people, their culture and values.

Francis also said that “an apology is not the end of the matter,” adding that he “totally” agrees with the suspects who want action. And he said he hopes more research can be done and that “concrete methods” can be found that can help survivors begin a path toward healing and reconciliation.

After his speech, which he delivered in Spanish and was translated into English, Wilton Littlechild, chief of the Armenian Creed Nation, who welcomed the pope, placed him in a headdress, its white feathers They were standing on white clothes.

Until this year, the Vatican had rejected repeated requests for an apology from locals. A national Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up by the Canadian government called the schools a form of “cultural genocide” and called on the Pope to apologize in 2015.

Many locals attribute the Vatican’s move to a startling discovery announced just over a year ago at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in the barren mountains of British Columbia’s interior.

Analysis of ground-penetrating radar scans found evidence, consistent with testimony from former students, that hundreds of students were buried in unmarked graves on school grounds. Later radar searches yielded similarly grim evidence of remains at other schools in the following months.

After Francis finished his remarks, many of those gathered to listen said they were satisfied with what he had to say.

“They clearly understand the evil of colonialism,” said Phil Fontaine, former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, who 32 years ago became the first indigenous person to publicly describe abuse at a Catholic-run settlement. He was one of the leaders. School “I was impressed by what I heard.”

But Mr. Fontaine, who sat next to the pope on Monday, acknowledged that he and many other locals were particularly frustrated by the pope’s failure to address several issues. They include the church’s failure to pay surviving students compensation it agreed to pay in 2006 as part of a landmark class-action lawsuit settlement.

The Catholic Church has paid only 1.2 million Canadian dollars of the 25 million Canadian dollars it agreed to collect in cash donations to compensate survivors.

Still, Mr. Fontaine said the pope’s message was an important step.

“He may not have said every word we wanted to hear,” said Mr. Fontaine, who first apologized to Pope Benedict XVI during a Vatican meeting 13 years ago. “But it gave us an idea of ​​the next steps.”

Hours after the apology, Francis visited more survivors of the school at the Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples in Alberta’s capital, Edmonton, on what he called his “pilgrimage of condolence.”

“I can only imagine the effort it must take for those who have suffered so much at the hands of men and women who should have set the example of the Christian life, to even think of reconciliation. for,” he told the alumni.

Still, some local people, especially young people, were indifferent to the Pope’s visit and pardon.

“I’m very critical of the pope’s visit,” said Reilly Yesno, 23, a doctoral student at the University of Toronto from the Ayabametong First Nation in Ontario. “And I say that as someone whose grandparents went to Catholic-run residential schools. I don’t see how any of the words he’s going to say actually apply to residential schools. How will the damage be repaired?

After the pope spoke on Monday morning, Ms. Yesno said she was “taking a magnifying glass for real forgiveness even though I think there’s a lot more to come.”

While traditional indigenous dances, drumming and singing were included before and after the Pope’s pardon, the Pope did not participate in any of the traditional indigenous spiritual ceremonies such as the burning of smoke, cedar, sage, sweet grass and tobacco. A wave of smoke. Cleaning

“Why didn’t he participate in our spiritual exercises?” Rachel Snow, a member of the Iyahe Nakoda Sioux First Nation in Morley, Alberta. “It should be a two-way street.”

But most Muscovites welcomed the pope’s long-awaited pardon.

“It was real and it was good,” said Cam Byrd, 42, a residential school survivor on the Little Red River Nation in Saskatchewan. “He believes in us.”

Some locals said they were still evaluating the pope’s message and how it would resonate after so many generations of destruction and trauma.

“I still haven’t really digested it,” said Barb Morin, 64, of Ile-à-la-Crosse, Saskatchewan, who wore a T-shirt that read “Residential School Survivors Never Forgotten.” And whose parents suffered in institutions. .

“I’m having a hard time internalizing it right now.”

Jason Horowitz Reported from Maskwacis, Alberta, and. Ian Austin From Edmonton, Alberta.