“I am deeply sorry – sorry for the way in which, unfortunately, many Christians supported the colonizing mentality of the powers that oppressed indigenous peoples,” Pope Francis said.
The pope addressed his comments to several thousand residential school survivors in a powwow arbor. For me, it is the survivors and their voices that must guide our path from now on.
The Catholic Church won’t be directing our healing, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a responsibility.
I know a number of survivors for whom the pope’s apology was incredibly meaningful. I know others who would have preferred that the Pope not visit our country and who were triggered by his presence here.
Many of our fellow citizens are still trying to find their way home – some literally and some culturally. We still face state violence. Our families continue to be separated by provincial and federal politics.
I am part of the first generation of my family not to be sent to residential schools or imprisoned by the child welfare system. But there is today more Indigenous children in the child welfare system than ever in residential schools (less than 8% of Canadian children under 15 are Indigenous, but Indigenous youth make up more than half of children under 15 in foster care ).
The last boarding school closed in 1996, so it is not a long gone story. We are still grappling, as families and communities, with intergenerational trauma. But it’s not just about us individually and collectively doing healing work.
The Roman Catholic Church owes us reparations and continued solidarity if it takes the Pope’s apology seriously.
An important step would be to return to Indigenous peoples the lands that the Roman Catholic Church owns in Canada. One of the legacies of the Roman Catholic Church is the Doctrine of Discovery, which for centuries has relied on papal bulls from the 1400s to justify the removal of Indigenous peoples from their lands because they are not considered fully human. The pope did not mention this in his apology, nor did he rescind these papal decrees.
The Catholic Church should also fund efforts to revitalize and teach our languages. Children who attended residential schools in Canada were not allowed to speak their native language, and many were physically punished if they did. All Indigenous languages spoken in Canada are considered endangered. We need support to ensure the survival of our languages, which convey our visions of the world.
Pope Francis’ visit came in response to the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which was organized by residential school survivors. One of their calls to action urged the pope to “apologize to survivors, their families and communities for the role of the Roman Catholic Church in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical and sexual abuse of children. First Nations, Inuit and Métis. in Catholic boarding schools.
But of the 94 calls to action, only 12 were completed.
Although the Pope has promised an investigation and assistance to survivors for the trauma they have suffered, the Catholic Church should start by pay the full $25 million they have pledged to abide by the 2006 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. To date, they have paid less than $4 million.
Many children did not survive residential schools. We know from the testimonies shared by survivors through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that physical, emotional, spiritual and sexual abuse were rampant in these facilities. Last summer 215 unmarked graves were identified at the Kamloops school through ground-penetrating radar. Many people deny the existence of these tombs. Non-Aboriginal people in Canada must help us fight this denial.
For (Nehiyaw) Plains Cree like me, children are sacred, they are lent to us by the Creator. These sacred beings were stolen from us and taught to hate their own culture. The work to ensure that all of our children are honored and connected to their culture will continue long after the Pope leaves our land. We will continue to call for the repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery and the restitution of our lands. We will continue to advocate for justice for children in the child welfare system. The Pope’s visit is an important day in our history, but there is still much to do.