MASKWACIS, Alta. — Pope Francis on Monday issued a sweeping apology to Indigenous people in their homeland in Canada, responding to a critical demand from many survivors of church-run residential schools that became horrific centers of abuse, forced assimilation, cultural devastation and death for over a century.
“I humbly ask forgiveness for the wrong done by so many Christians against Indigenous peoples,” Francis told a large crowd of Indigenous people, some wearing traditional clothing and headdresses, in Maskwacis, Alberta, the site of a former boarding school.
The pope delivered his apology in a powwow circle, a covered ring surrounding an open space used for traditional dancing and drumming circles. Around it were teepees, campfires and kiosks labeled “Mental Health and Cultural Support.”
Francis, who arrived at the event being pushed around in a wheelchair, added that his remarks were directed at “every Indigenous community and individual” and said a sense of “shame” lingers since he left. apologized to representatives of indigenous peoples in April at the Vatican.
He said he was “deeply sorry” – a remark that sparked applause and shouts of approval – for the way “many Christians supported the colonizing mentality of the powers that oppressed indigenous peoples”.
“I’m sorry,” he continued. “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 resulted in the residential school system.
These schools separated children from parents; inflicted physical, sexual and mental abuse; tongues erased; and used Christianity as a weapon to break the cultures and communities of indigenous peoples. Christian churches ran most schools for the government with Catholic orders responsible for running 60-70% of the approximately 130 schools, where thousands of children died.
Francois said it was “right to remember” at the site of such trauma, even at the risk of opening up old wounds.
“It is necessary to remember how devastating the policies of assimilation and emancipation, which also included the residential school system, were for the people of these lands,” he said, adding, “I thank you for making me appreciate this”.
He called the abuses often perpetrated with missionary zeal a “disastrous mistake” that eroded the people, their culture and their values.
Francis also said “apologizing is not the end of the matter”, adding that he “fully” agreed with the skeptics who wanted action. And he said he hoped for further investigations and that “concrete ways” could be found to help survivors embark on the path of healing and reconciliation.
After delivering his speech, which he delivered in Spanish and which was translated into English, Chief Wilton Littlechild of the Ermineskin Cree Nation, who had introduced the pope, fitted him with a headdress whose feathers white rose on her white dress. The crowd burst into applause.
When Francis finished his remarks, many who had listened said they were pleased with his apology.
“It was authentic and it tasted good,” said Cam Bird, 42, a residential school survivor from the Little Red River reservation in Saskatchewan. “He believes us.
But others were still taking stock of what had just happened after so many generations of devastation and trauma.
“I haven’t really digested it yet,” said Barb Morin, 64, of Ile-a-la-Crosse, Saskatchewan, whose parents suffered in residential schools and who wore a sweater bearing the “Residential School Survivors Never Forgotten” inscription. “I’m really having a hard time internalizing that right now.”