Papal visit: Indigenous people seek healing and action
When Pope Francis visits Canada, Indigenous leaders and residential school survivors say they want more than an apology: they want action.
Francis, who will be the first pope in nearly 20 years to visit Canada, said Sunday he was making a « penitential pilgrimage » to help right the wrongs done to Indigenous peoples by Catholic priests and nuns who led abusive residential schools linked to the deaths of thousands of children.
More than 150,000 children were taken from their homes and many were victims of abuse, rape and malnutrition in what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada called in 2015 a “cultural genocide”.
The discovery of the remains of 215 children at a former boarding school in British Columbia last year has brought the issue back to the fore amid calls for a formal apology from the pope. Since then, the alleged remains of hundreds more children have been discovered at other former boarding schools across the country.
François, 85, is personally popular in Canada, especially among Catholics, who represent 32% of the population, according to the latest census. Tickets for his free events were purchased within minutes, and Indigenous groups said they were overwhelmed with requests from residential school survivors interested in attending.
In Nunavut’s northern territory, nearly 200 residents have requested travel assistance to see the pope during his stopover in the capital, Iqaluit, said David Aglukark, project manager at Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., an Inuit organization that organizes trips.
« There’s a lot of interest because of the trauma, » Aglukark said. « What we heard is that this (visit) is going to help them in the healing process. They look relieved. They look happy. »
During his July 24-30 trip, Francis will first visit Edmonton and Maskwacis in the western province of Alberta, then Lac Ste. Anne, followed by Quebec before ending in Iqaluit, in the Canadian territory of Nunavut. He must deliver nine homilies and allocutions and say two masses.
The last papal visit to Canada was that of Pope John Paul II in 2002.
‘WHAT IS AN APOLOGY?’
The pontiff issued a historic apology in April after a week of meetings with delegates from indigenous nations in Rome and, while his visit is « part of the healing journey » for some survivors, words alone will not suffice, the ministry said. Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Peoples. Nations Leader Bobby Cameron.
« There are those who say, ‘What is an apology? We don’t need excuses. We need action,’” Cameron said.
Survivors and Indigenous community leaders say they want financial compensation, the recovery of artifacts, support to bring alleged abusers to justice and the release of records relating to schools, which operated between 1831 and 1996.
Some indigenous leaders also want the Catholic Church to renounce a 15th-century colonial doctrine that justified the dispossession of indigenous peoples, issued as papal bulls or edicts.
« Cancel the papal bulls…open up the archives for survivors to find their families and piece together what happened in the schools, » said Indigenous lawyer Eleanore Sunchild, who was among the delegates in Rome this spring.
« There is so much healing to be done from what the church has left in our communities. To actually heal the survivors…that’s compensation that we’ve never had. »
This spring, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops pledged to raise $30 million for healing, cultural and language revitalization and other initiatives. The Indigenous Reconciliation Fund is a registered charity that accepts contributions from dioceses, said Neil MacCarthy, spokesman for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. He has already raised $4.6 million.
« Others feel that more needs to be done and certainly as a church we recognize that the papal visit is (only) one important moment in the journey of truth and reconciliation. »
(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny in Toronto, Rod Nickel in Winnipeg. Additional reporting by Kevin Dougherty in Quebec CityEditing by Aurora Ellis)