Pope Francis: Reaction to boarding school apology


Indigenous leaders, activists and others are reacting to Pope Francis’ apology on Monday for the role of the Catholic Church in Canada’s residential school system, a moment recognized by some as a historic event, while others continue to urge the pontiff to follow up on his words with action.

Pope Francis issued his apology during a visit to the former site of the Ermineskin Indian Residential School in Maskwacis, Alta., a trip he calls his « penitential pilgrimage. »

« I ask forgiveness, in particular, for the way in which many members of the Church and religious communities cooperated, notably through their indifference, in the projects of cultural destruction and forced assimilation promoted by the governments of the time. , which culminated in the residential school system,” he said.

The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples (CAP) released a statement calling for continued reconciliation and new investments in Indigenous healing.

“This is an important first step towards reconciliation and acknowledgment of the intergenerational trauma residential schools have caused to Indigenous peoples on Turtle Island,” said CAP National Chief Elmer St. Pierre.

“After failed attempts and a lack of will, it is time for the Catholic Church to make the necessary investments to help individuals and communities heal.”

The statement adds that the CAP hopes this « historic » apology will encourage indigenous peoples to reclaim their rich cultures and traditions.

« The vast majority of Indigenous peoples now live in urban areas, requiring more support and programming off reserve and in southern cities, » the statement said.

« CAP calls on the Catholic Church to make the necessary repairs to ensure that all Indigenous peoples have access to culturally relevant supports, no matter where they live. »

Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, responded to the papal visit by saying the apology was about « actions ».

« You are showing that you are truly sad and that you are committed to not making the same mistakes again by your actions. That is what this apology should be judged on, » he added. she wrote on Twitter.

She highlighted the actions needed to eliminate the physical and sexual abuse of children around the world, acceptance of the church’s responsibility for those abused or who died in its care, reparations and support for victims.

“The most important day of apology is the day after and the year after. We all have to watch what the pope does then,” Blackstock said.

In a press release, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said the government’s residential school policy, with church involvement, « has created deep wounds that don’t heal easily or quickly. »

“Yet we saw in Maskwacis both the resilience of Indigenous peoples to preserve their culture, as well as the goodwill of Catholics and other Canadians for both truth and reconciliation,” he said.

Lori Idlout, spokesperson for Crown-Indigenous relations for the federal New Democratic Party, said in a statement that the role of the Catholic Church in the « genocide » against Indigenous peoples still affects families and communities.

Idlout added: “Immediate action is urgently needed to ensure healing for the crimes committed against Inuit, First Nations and Métis at the hands of the churches.

“The Catholic Church and government have worked together on harm and crime, and they must work together to ensure that harm to Indigenous peoples is addressed in a meaningful way. Cooperating with ongoing investigations and preparing all available documents requested by survivors, police and local governments is the least the Church and the federal government can do for Indigenous peoples,” Idlout said.

« The Pope’s visit is an opportunity to chart a new path to healing – it should not be tokenistic. »

Pope Francis also apologized for not being able to visit other Canadian communities that have invited him, including Winnipeg.

Acting Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Cornell McLean said in a statement that the pope’s apology is a step towards healing for many.

“It has been over a year since the discovery of over a thousand unmarked children’s graves on the grounds of Indian Residential Schools, and we still mourn them. An apology does not ease the pain of lost children who never returned home, nor the legacy that First Nations people carry as survivors, their children and grandchildren,” he said.

« However, we encourage the Church to move forward in a spirit of reconciliation with concrete commitments and real reparations in the future. »

Here are more reactions to Pope Francis’ apology:

« Pope Francis’ words today and in Rome this spring represent a journey that has spanned more than 180 years — from the opening of the doors of these so-called schools to the challenges faced by First Nations peoples today. Nations,” former Assembly of First Nations Chief Phil Fontaine, who attended two residential schools in Manitoba, said in a statement. « By apologizing for past abuses, Pope Francis has helped open the door for survivors and their families to walk with the church into a present and future of forgiveness and healing. I accept and choose this way. »

« Each survivor will choose how they feel about the apology. We have witnessed the Pope’s response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action #58 – and heard a message of hope for our people, Canadians and Catholics around the world: First Nations cultures, languages ​​and traditions matter. This message will guide us all on the path to reconciliation,” said AFN Regional Chief Cindy Woodhouse. .

“I believe today was a really good second start, because I believe it started a long time ago when leaders at the time, before me, asked for these same things,” said Audrey Poitras, President of the Metis Nation of Alberta.

With files from CTV News and The Canadian Press


If you are a distressed former residential school survivor or have been impacted by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24 hour residential school crisis line: 1-866-925 -4419. Additional mental health support and resources for Indigenous people are available here.


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