Pope Francis came this week to Maskwacis in central Alberta, where scores of Indigenous peoples, including residential school survivors and their descendants, had gathered to deliver an expected apology in response to the demand for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Call to Action #58:
“We ask 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 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children in the Catholic schools, boarding schools”.
I am the granddaughter of a residential school survivor. I am the daughter of a First Nations woman who survived the theft of each of her seven children and their displacement across the Sixties Scoop Assimilation Policy.
I spent over 25 years searching and locating not only my biological mother, but also all of my siblings, who were spread across several provinces. I continue to fight so that my nieces, nephews and young parents know who they are and that we are here thanks to the undeniable strength and perseverance of our ancestors.
What many Canadians don’t understand is that the struggles within Indigenous communities today are not cultural traits – they are symptoms of a people still struggling with intergenerational trauma and the horrors lived through the genocidal acts and abuses that took place under the assimilation policy of the residential schools. .
Are the papal apologies genuine?
Did the Pope’s Apology Really Answer Call to Action #58?
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission called for the apology to take place on Turtle Island within a year of the release of the 2015 report. It also called for an apology to address the role of the Roman Catholic Church.
Seven years later, and only because of the continued persistence of indigenous peoples, Pope Francis has agreed to apologize. But what did he apologize for?
Much like he did when an indigenous delegation visited Rome Earlier this year, Pope Francis apologized for “the manner in which many members of the Church and religious communities cooperated” in the residential school system.
It was not the Catholic Church that took responsibility for acts of genocide and spiritual, emotional and physical abuse. Apologize for individuals versus the establishment who not only supporting the policy of assimilation, but also protecting – and continues to protect – the people who committed the crimes is at worst horrifying and at best an insult.
The Catholic Church not only supported the government’s residential school system, but used it to advance its own religious agenda. He continues to protect Catholic leaders who have perpetrated criminal acts on children. Some of them are still alive to this day.
Canada continues to investigate and hold accountable those who committed war crimes during World War II. Where is the accountability of those who committed crimes against Indigenous children?
Other Areas Where the Church Fails
After the discovery of unmarked graves of children who died while attending residential schools began receiving international coverage in 2021, the Catholic Church pledged $30 million to support reconciliation projects for the survivors.
But his fundraising campaign failed by almost 90%. The Church says it is still working on a detailed plan.
Nevertheless, in 2016, he managed to raise and invest $128 million to renovate St. Michael’s Basilica-Cathedral in downtown Toronto.
The Catholic Church is one of the richest religious organizations in the world. Money flows where priorities go, and the Catholic Church clearly prioritizes renovations over reconciliation.
Indigenous groups, including the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation, have also called for the release of all residential school records since the release of the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission report. The Vatican still has not complied.
It holds archives and forces indigenous people to travel to Rome to access documents. It is also suspected that some documents were destroyed.
False absolution causes pain
I wouldn’t be walking in my truth if I didn’t acknowledge how the Church manipulated some Indigenous peoples.
It seems that the Church feels that its only responsibility was to listen to the survivors share their horror stories, and that in itself absolves it of any wrongdoing and releases it from any further responsibility.
This still happens today in an extremely upsetting way for me and for many other Indigenous peoples. We saw it this week when the pope received sacred objects from those who suffered abuse.
Sharing gifts is a cultural norm for Indigenous peoples. But sharing sacred and ceremonial objects intended to recognize people at the highest level for their contributions, wisdom and leadership is not only inappropriate, but also deeply damaging to Indigenous culture and the future of our youth. Neither the Pope nor the Church deserved these gifts.
It suggests that we do not deserve reparations, accountability or reciprocity.
Time and again, Indigenous peoples who have been displaced by assimilation policies and other colonization tactics tell me that they deeply desire opportunities to learn more about who they are and where they come from and to understand our cultures.
I wiped away their tears as they cried as they witnessed Indigenous political leaders giving headdresses, pipes and drums as symbolic and performative gestures to those who continue to harm us.
Reconciliation requires people to act
To my loved ones who are still struggling as you find your way back into the circle, I offer my deepest condolences for the hurt you endured when you saw this happen again during the Pope’s visit. These behaviors need to stop, period.
To the Canadian community as a whole, please know that reconciliation is not just the responsibility of the state or an institution. It is also up to the individual.
Reconciliation is how you guide conversations with your family while having dinner. This is how you acknowledge the pope’s apologies and deepen the discussion to talk about what was left unsaid. It is these conversations that will contribute to a future where everyone in Canada can prosper, including Indigenous peoples.
This article was originally published by The conversation. It has been published here with permission.
is a Cree-Métis from Treaty 6 territory (member of the Montreal Lake Cree First Nation) with deep roots in Treaty 4 and an experienced leader of Indigenous engagement in post-secondary education. Lori has extensive and proven experience in advancing processes of indigenization, decolonization and reconciliation engagement in post-secondary education and administration. She brings more than 15 years of progressive leadership that includes contributions to student services, teaching, curriculum development, advancement, and research.