“A devastating mistake”: Pope Francis on Monday issued a historic apology to Canada’s Native American people, asking for “forgiveness for the mistake” made during decades of residential school for natives. “I’m sad. I apologize,” said the pope in Maskwaci, Alberta, in western Canada. Speaking of “wounds that are still open”, he acknowledged the responsibility of some members of the Church in this system where “children suffer physical and verbal, psychological and spiritual abuse”.
The words of the sovereign pontiff have long been awaited by these people – First Nations, Métis and Inuit – who now represent 5% of the Canadian population. They were met with loud applause.
After praying at the Maskwacis cemetery, Pope Francis asked “forgiveness” three times, “with shame and clarity”, during this first speech at the site of the former Ermineskin boarding school, in front of many survivors and member of the indigenous community, very moved. “The policies of assimilation have ended in the systematic marginalization of indigenous peoples”, he insisted, lamenting that “many Christians (have) supported the colonizing mentality of the powers” that “oppress” them.
The painful chapter of “residential schools” for indigenous children caused at least 6,000 deaths between the end of the 19th century and the 1990s and created trauma for many generations. The Canadian government, which has paid billions of dollars in reparations to former students, officially apologized 14 years ago for building these schools to “kill the Indian in the heart of the child”. The Anglican Church then did the same. But the Catholic Church, which runs more than 60% of these boarding schools, has long refused to do so.
Under a light rain and in an atmosphere of contemplation, about 2,000 people gathered near the former Ermineskin boarding school, one of the largest in Canada, which was open from 1895 to 1975. Many wore clothes with the name or logo of their community. Others, the orange T-shirt symbol of the natives. “This is a wonderful day, a historic day,” said Vernon Saddleback, chief of the Samson Cree Nation, at a press conference, who said he was “grateful”.
These apologies are “a first step” but “there is more work to be done”, reacted George Arcand Jr., Grand Chief of the Confederation of First Nations of Treaty No. 6.
“We suffered a lot of pain. It’s time to forgive and work with the Catholic Church for the future of the community,” André Carrier, of the Manitoba Métis Federation, told AFP, a hat on his head and a medallion around his neck.
In the afternoon, the pope went as a “friend” to the restored Church of the Sacred Heart of the First People of Edmonton, which evoked “restoration”. “Nothing can erase the dignity that was violated, the damage that was suffered, the trust that was betrayed. And even our shame on us, believers, will never be erased”, he testified.
At the end of the day, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was in Maskwacis on Monday, also insisted that reconciliation is “the business of all Canadians”. “No one should forget what happened in residential schools, and we all need to make sure that it never happens again”, he added, inviting all citizens to “show openness, listen and share .
In April, the Pope for the first time apologized to the Vatican for the Church’s role in 130 boarding schools, where about 150,000 indigenous children were forcibly recruited, cut off from their families, their language and culture, and often victims. of physical, psychological and sexual violence.
Gradually, Canada is opening its eyes to this past, which is now called “cultural genocide”: the discovery of more than 1,300 unknown graves in 2021 near boarding schools created a shock wave .