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Long Awaited Apology: Native American Boarding Schools and the Pope

In March 2022, Pope Francis, indigenous leaders, and survivors of Canada’s resident/boarding schools met to discuss the horrible things done to native children by Catholic priests while attending those schools. The Canadian government and church were making the effort to address the Native American’s demands for reconciliations, reparations, and justice, after hundreds of unmarked graves were found just outside some of the resident schools.

Pope Francis met with the First Nations, the Metis and Intuit, with a counselor present at each meeting. Then, the “delegates” gathered for a group meeting, where Francis spoke to a more formal audience. Personal stories were shared from three Metis survivors, where the Pope listened with compassion. The meeting lasted about an hour, and the Pope responded by emphasizing his commitment to truth, justice, and healing.

Caron said, “We hope that in committing to us, committing to real action, the church can finally begin its own pathway towards meaningful and lasting reconciliation.”

Pope Francis met again in July 2022, with Prime Minister Trudeau and Governor Mary Simon, at her home in Quebec. Though Francis’ apology may have been sincere, the Canadian government stated that it did not go far enough. They feel that he omitted all reference to sexual abuse that Indigenous children suffered at the hands of the Catholic Church. Francis spoke of evil done by individual Christians, and asked God to forgive the church, but did not acknowledge the evil done by the institution of the Catholic Church.

History Of Resident Schools

From as early as the 19th century until the 1970’s, over 150,000 native children in Canada were forced to go to Christian schools as an attempt to isolate them from their families, culture, and assimilate them into American society. There were 130 residential schools, and 75 percent of them were run by Catholic missionary congregations.

Come to find out later that many of those children were physically and sexually abused. They were not allowed to speak in their native language, and were punished if they did.

Native American leaders today state that these atrocities are among the root causes leading to the ongoing epidemic alcohol and drug addiction rates in the indigenous population.

Indigenous School Gravesites

In May 2021, the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Nation reported that they found 215 gravesites near Kamloops, British Columbia using a radar that penetrates the ground. The gravesites were on the grounds of Canada’s biggest Indigenous resident school. Other sites have since been found in other parts of Canada.

Due to the extensive abuse to the Metis, Inuit, and First Nation children, Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission called for an apology from the Pope on Canadian soil. As of yet, Francis has made no commitment to travel to Canada.

An Apology from the Catholic Church

President of the Intuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Natan Obed, says, “Primarily the reconciliation requires action. And we still are in need of very specific actions from the Catholic Church.” He also cited that the Catholic church has been ordered to open their doors and help financially to help in any way possible.

A lawsuit settlement ordered the Canadian church to pay reparations to the over 90,000 students that survive. Billions of dollars have been paid to various Indigenous communities.

Apologies To Other Countries

The Pope is no stranger to offering apologies for offenses committed by the church. In 2015, he visited Bolivia and apologized to the Indigenous population for crimes committed during the colonial era conquest of the Americas. He also traveled to Dublin, Ireland in 2018, to offer an apology to Irish women who were abused physically and sexually by church officials.

Pope Francis states that the pain suffered by all will take time to heal. He believes his apology is but one of the first steps toward healing and has committed to continued reconciliation.

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