On April 1st, Pope Francis expressed “sorrow and shame” for the role played by “a number of Catholics” in the abuse of the Indigenous people in Canada’s residential school system.
“Great harm was done to your identity and your culture,” the pontiff said. “Many families were separated, and great numbers of children fell victim to these attempts to impose a uniformity based on the notion that progress occurs through ideological colonization.”
This apology was long awaited. However reactions varied.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Acknowledged the survivors and their families of residential schools for 6 years as they retold their experiences in the residential school system.
In 2015, the Commission delivered its final report on their discoveries, with 94 calls to action. One called 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… to be delivered by the Pope in Canada.”
Many felt that the commission didn’t need to take that long to listen to survivors. This would have also retraumatized the survivors and their families.
Pope Francis apologized for ”the suffering, hardship, discrimintion and various forms of abuse that you experienced,” saying that he was “deeply grieved” by the stories of survivors.
President of the Union of B.C, Chiefs Steward Philip was shocked to hear there was going to be an apology. “I didn’t expect an apology,” said Phillip. “I thought the Vatican would continue to just stonewall the apology.”
Chief Darrel Draney of the Skeetchestn Indian Band, west of Kelowna said the apology is one of the first steps to reconciliation.
However, many feel that the pope’s apology is nearly not enough.
There are also many other issues that victims, survivors, and their families feel need to be addressed. Pope Francis did not mention other issues survivors have raised, including keeping promises to disclose documents, giving back Indigenous arts and religious items, extraditing and prosecuting abuser priests, and compensating victims.
Semaganis called the speech a “sort of apology.” They hope the attention and pressure felt by the Vatican delegation’s visit will lead to action and change, but they say they haven’t seen any evidence of that yet. “This was more than abuse by a few individuals—it was in its entirety a massive human rights violation and part of a systemic and institutionalized attempt to destroy our communities that left deep intergenerational emotional damage and harm that continues to date,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip responding to Pope Francis. He notes that the Pope apologized “for the role that a number of Catholics, particularly those with educational responsibilities” played instead of apologizing for the Catholic churches as a whole for its part in stripping Indigenous peoples of their culture.
Some People felt there was a sense of relief to hear the Pope’s words. But feel it was lacking. Frank Badger said, “To travel halfway across the world to appear to be begging for someone to say I’m sorry for wrongs that were committed against you, it doesn’t sit well.”
When Badger worked at the Assembly Of First Nations, then Prime Minister Jean Chretien issued a statement of reconciliation which some Indigenous leaders accepted, including Phil Fontaine on behalf of the Assembly of First Nations.
During the assembly a person in the room stood up and said to Fontaine, “You do not have the right to accept anybody’s apology on my behalf,”
It is not an apology for many members of the First Nations community, however many consider it a step in the right direction.
Nakuset, Executive Director of the Native Women’s Center in Montreal had a mother that survived the Prince Albert residential school, and she did not think the apology was good enough, She wants the priests and nuns held accountable for their actions.
“An apology doesn’t mean anything. What we need is accountability. There are many priests and nuns who abused children who were in residential schools, and they’re still alive.” Nakuset Said “Are any of them going to be prosecuted? Are any of them going to jail?”