Pope Francis goes to Canada, apologizes to Indigenous groups for abuse by missionaries at residential schools
The Catholic leader is apologizing for generational trauma stemming from sexual and physical abuse at the hands of its missionary leaders where many kids died.
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After Pope Francis’ arrival in Canada on Sunday, July 25, the Catholic leader gave a speech on Monday, where he apologized on behalf of the Catholic community, and the Vatican for trauma stemming from physical and sexual abuses at the hands of leaders and clergy members at residential schools. While some people cheer at the idea of the Pope’s visit, others see it as nothing less than words on the Pope’s six-day trip that will take him to Edmonton, Quebec City, and Iqaluit, Nunavut, in the far north.
“Right now, many of our people are skeptical and they are hurt… We could begin our journey of healing… and change the way things have been for our people for many, many years.” Grand Chief George Arcand Jr. of the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations said about the Pope’s visit.
Not only did thousands of children die, the schools were designed to erase their Native culture and looked to assimilate them into White culture. They even went as far to separate the children from their families. The six-day trip comes after years of pleading from Indigenous leaders and politicians for an apology from the Vatican for its role in what they call “cultural genocide” of its Native community. Pope Francis also met with survivors on Monday morning near one of the former residential schools in Maskwacis, where he apologized and a prayer occurred at a cemetery site.
However, these Indigenous groups, besides an apology, are looking for answers. The groups are pushing for archives from the church in hopes of finding missing children that never came back home. Additionally, they seek reparations, justice for the abused, and for the Vatican to return all Indigenous artifacts that are currently held in the Vatican museum.
Admittance to the sexual and physical abuses that rampantly occured in these state-funded Christian schools has come along with billions of dollars in reparations to the Indigenous communities and survivors. They operated from the 19th century to the 1970s, with one of the last schools closing up in the 1990s. In the time of the abuses, more than 150,000 children were taken from their families and forced into these schools and away from their culture to assimilate them to Canadian Christian ways.
In 2015, Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission released a report on their findings of these abuses, calling it “institutionalized child neglect.” The majority of the schools were run by Catholics with Anglicans, Presbyterians and the United Church also being involved. Besides the abuses, many died in fires, and due to overcrowding that caused medical outbreaks of measles, hepatitis, and diphtheria.
The 2015 report called for an apology from the Pope, but it was not until after 2021, when the supposed remains of over 200 children were discovered at one of the old schools — Kamloops Residential School in British Columbia — that the Catholic Church said they’d comply with their wishes.
It was former Prime Minister Stephen Harper who first formally apologized for Canada’s involvement in the tragedies back in 2008. In a lawsuit settlement that included the government, churches, and over 90,000 survivors, billions of Canadian dollars were awarded. In the time since, current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized again last year for the “incredibly harmful government policy” that went in with the organization of these residential schools.
The site of one of the former schools in Maskwacis is now a school system run by the four local Cree Nations teaching students the culture that was put down by the Catholic Church at the time of the abuses.