In Canada, Pope Francis apologized to the natives

CANADA – “A devastating mistake.” Pope Francis on Monday (July 25) issued a historic apology to the Native American people of Canada, asking for “forgiveness for the wrong” done over the decades by residential schools for of Native Americans.

“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 been expected for many years by these people – First Nations, Métis and Inuit – who now represent 5% of the Canadian population. They were met with loud applause.

Traditional headdress

Shortly after his speech, one of the chiefs presented him with his traditional headdress as a sign of respect. Suddenly a woman stood up to sing the Canadian song in the Cree language alone. On his changed face, a tear rolled down.

“There are no words to describe how important this day is for our healing journey”, summed up Vernon Saddleback, one of the chiefs of the Maskwacis reserve where the sovereign pontiff went for his first trip to a journey.

A few minutes later, to the sound of traditional songs, a large red flag led the crowd that gathered in a collected atmosphere. In the upper band, thousands of children’s names are written under one.

These are among the thousands of children who died during their stay at the boarding school and were often buried nearby, without a specific burial place and without informing their parents. Many died from diseases (tuberculosis, pneumonia, etc.), accidents, but also from abuse and neglect, and poor sanitary conditions.

At least 6,000 dead children

After praying at the Maskwacis Cemetery, Pope Francis asked for “forgiveness” three times, “with shame and clarity”, during this first speech at the site of the former Ermineskin boarding school, in the presence of many survivors and members of indigenous communities, were deeply moved. .

“The policies of assimilation ended in the systematic exclusion of indigenous peoples,” he insisted, lamenting that “many Christians (have) supported the colonizing mentality of the powers” that “oppressed” 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 that were built 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.

“A historic day”

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 clothing with the name or logo of their community. Others, the orange T-shirt symbol of the natives.

“This is an extraordinary day, a historic day”, reacted in a press conference Vernon Saddleback, chief of the Samson Cree Nation, who said he was “grateful”. These apologies are “a first step” but “there is still a lot of work to do”, reacted George Arcand Jr., grand chief of the Confederation of First Nations of Treaty n. 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.

Before leaving the area, participants were invited to place their “tears” in a paper bag which was then burned, a spiritual ritual specific to the First Nations.

The importance of reconciliation

In the afternoon, the pope then went as a “friend” to the restored Church of the Sacred Heart of the First People of Edmonton, talking about “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 on reconciliation, which 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, d ‘listening and sharing’.

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 described as “cultural genocide”: the discovery of more than 1,300 unknown graves in 2021 near boarding schools created a shock wave .

On Tuesday, the pope will celebrate mass at a stadium in Edmonton and travel to Lac Sainte-Anne, site of an important annual pilgrimage. He will then join Quebec on Wednesday before the final stage on Friday in Iqaluit (Nunavut), a city in the Canadian Far North. Still weakened by knee pain, the Argentinian Jesuit travels in a wheelchair and his program is adapted to limit his movements.

See also at The Huffpost: In Canada, 215 children’s shoes in memory of the victims of the former boarding school for Native Americans

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