Friday, May 24, 2024

Pope Says Genocide Took Place at Canada’s Residential Schools 

Although Pope Francis didn’t use the word genocide in his remarks during his “penitential pilgrimage” of healing, reconciliation, and hope in Canada, he described the Church’s activity as genocidal while speaking to reporters on his flight back to Rome. 

“It’s true, I didn’t use the word because it didn’t come to my mind, but I described the genocide and asked for forgiveness, pardon for this activity that is genocidal. For example, I condemned this too: taking away children, changing culture, changing mentality, changing traditions, changing a race, let’s put it that way, an entire culture. Yes, genocide is a technical word. I didn’t use it because it didn’t come to my mind, but I described it… It’s true, yes, yes, it’s genocide,” said the Pope.

Addressing Indigenous Peoples at Maskwacis, near the site of the former Ermineskin Residential School in Alberta, the Pope said the overall effects of the policies linked to the residential schools were catastrophic. “What our Christian faith tells us is that this was a disastrous error, incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is painful to think of how the firm soil of values, language, and culture that made up the authentic identity of your peoples was eroded, and that you have continued to pay the price of this. In the face of this deplorable evil, the Church kneels before God and implores his forgiveness for the sins of her children (cf. JOHN PAUL II, Bull Incarnationis Mysterium [29 November 1998), 11: AAS 91 [1999], 140). I myself wish to reaffirm this, with shame and unambiguously. I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the Indigenous Peoples.”

After the Pope’s remarks, Chief Judy Wilson of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs called for the Pope to repeal the Doctrine of Discovery which provided theological and legal justification for seizing Indigenous lands by European colonizers. 

Responding to a question on the Doctrine of Discovery during his flight, the Pope said, “We have … a somewhat colonialist attitude of reducing their culture to ours. It is something that comes to us from a developed way of life, our own, because of which we sometimes lose [discard] values that they have.” 

Referencing the colonization of the Americas, the Pope added that with the British, French, Spanish, and Portuguese colonial powers, there was always a danger, a mentality of “we are superior, and these indigenous people don’t matter,” and that is serious. “That’s why we have to work on what you say: go back and heal, let’s put it that way, what was done wrong, in the knowledge that even today, the same colonialism exists. Think, for example, about one case, which is universal, and allow me to say so. Take the case of the Rohingya, in Myanmar: they are considered inferior, they have no right to citizenship. Even today.”

Meeting with Indigenous Peoples at the Sacred Heart Church in Edmonton, Alberta, the Pope said that in the Church, the wheat is mixed with weeds. “And precisely because of those weeds, I wanted to make this penitential pilgrimage, which I began this morning by recalling the wrong done to the indigenous peoples by many Christians and by asking with sorrow for forgiveness.” He expressed pain for the Church’s contribution to assimilation policies and enfranchisement that robbed communities and individuals of their cultural and spiritual identity, severed their roots, and fostered prejudicial and discriminatory attitudes. 

In a statement, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the Pope recognized the abuses experienced at residential schools that resulted in cultural destruction, loss of life, and ongoing trauma lived by Indigenous Peoples in every region of this country. “The residential school system attempted to assimilate Indigenous children, forcing them to abandon their languages, cultures, spiritualities, traditions, and identities. Over 150,000 children were taken from their families and communities to attend residential schools. Many suffered physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, and thousands of children never returned home. The painful legacy of the residential school system lives on today,” said Trudeau.

Between 1883 and 1996, over 150,000 Indigenous children were forcibly sent to residential schools, many of which were operated by the Roman Catholic Church. A large number of Indigenous children never returned to their homes. In its report in 2012, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada said, “We call upon the Pope to issue an apology to survivors, their families, and communities for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children in Catholic-run residential schools. We call for that apology to be similar to the 2010 apology issued to Irish victims of abuse and to occur within one year of the issuing of this report and to be delivered by the Pope in Canada.”

In April 2022, Pope Francis apologized to Indigenous peoples at the Vatican for the abuses they suffered and the deplorable conduct of members of the Catholic Church at residential schools in Canada and promised to visit Canada. Addressing delegates of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis at the Vatican, Pope Francis said he was “deeply grieved by the stories of the suffering, hardship, discrimination and various forms of abuse that some of you experienced, particularly in the residential schools.” 

“It is chilling to think of determined efforts to instill a sense of inferiority, to rob people of their cultural identity, to sever their roots, and to consider all the personal and social effects that this continues to entail: unresolved traumas that have become intergenerational traumas,” said the Pope.

Pope Francis said he felt sorrow and shame for the “role that a number of Catholics, particularly those with educational responsibilities, have had in all these things that wounded” Indigenous peoples, and in the “lack of respect shown” for their identity, culture and spiritual values. He apologized for the “deplorable conduct” of those members of the Catholic Church, saying, “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.” 

On May 27, 2021, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation announced the discovery of a mass grave with the remains of 215 Indigenous children in Kamloops, British Columbia, at the site of what used to be the largest Indigenous residential school. The remains of 751 bodies, mostly children, were discovered at the Marieval Indian Residential School site in Saskatchewan, where the Cowessess First Nation is located. Yesterday, the Lower Kootenay Band said it found the remains of 182 people near the grounds of the former St. Eugene’s Mission Residential School near Cranbrook in BC.

On February 15, 2022, Keeseekoose Chief Lee Kitchimonia announced the discovery of 54 potential gravesites at former residential school sites around Keeseekoose First Nation in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. 

In January 2021, Williams Lake First Nation announced the discovery of 93 unmarked graves on the grounds of St Joseph Mission, a former residential school.


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