Pope Francis on Monday issued an apology for the role of the Roman Catholic Church in residential schools, saying many Christians support the colonization of indigenous peoples. He made the remarks at the former site of the Ermineskin Indian Residential School in the community of Maskwacis, south of Edmonton.
Here are some of the reactions to the historic apology:
“The words of Pope Francis today and in Rome this spring represent a journey that has spanned more than 180 years — from the time the doors of these so-called schools opened to the challenges faced today by First Nations peoples. By apologizing for past abuses, Pope Francis has helped open the door for survivors and their families to walk with the Church toward a present and future of forgiveness and healing. I accept and choose this path. — Phil Fontaine, former Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, who attended two residential schools in Manitoba
“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 help guide us all on the path to reconciliation. — Cindy Woodhouse, AFN Regional Chief
“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. Apologies do not ease the pain of lost children who never returned home, nor the legacy First Nations carry as Survivors, their children and grandchildren. However, we encourage the Church to move forward in a spirit of reconciliation with concrete commitments and real reparations in the future. — Cornell McLean, Acting Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs
“The Holy Father’s apology will lift some of the darkness that the residential school experience represents. Missing children will be recognized with the utmost respect and care according to the wishes of their families, as every circumstance required.” — Elder Harvey Nepinak, residential school survivor, who watched Dauphin’s apology, Man.
“It’s triggered the opening of a wound again. And that wound that’s reopened, we can’t just leave it like that. We really have to take the necessary steps to make sure we’re helping to heal and recover. our people…. You can’t just say ‘sorry’ and leave. There has to be effort, there has to be work and more meaningful action.” — Chief Tony Alexis, Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation.
“I’ve had ups and downs, cheers, disappointments, I wanted more and I wasn’t getting it. I’ve waited 50 years for this apology and finally today I heard it. And unfortunately, many of my family members, friends, classmates and members of my community who went to boarding school could not hear it, because they had died by suicide, drug addiction alcohol and other drug addictions or whatever because they couldn’t live with the trauma they endured in those residential schools.” — Evelyn Korkmaz, survivor of St. Anne’s Indian Residential School in Fort Albany, Ontario.
“I felt the apology was sincere. I felt the pope really did his homework. He dug in and made it as meaningful as possible.” — Chief Greg Desjarlais, Frog Lake First Nation.
“This historic moment would not have been possible without the advocacy and perseverance of First Nations, Inuit and Métis survivors. Today it’s up to you and all the children who have been taken from their families and deprived of their childhood. — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“What you heard from survivors before this was the hope for this important statement of apology, but not as an end in itself and not as a token gesture. The quality and sufficiency of this apology will be judged by the survivors and Canada will stand with these survivors. Obviously what we heard is that this has to be the beginning and not the end. — Marc Miller, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations.
“The government residential school policy, in which the churches participated, has created deep wounds that do not heal easily or quickly. Yet we have seen in Maskwacis both the resilience of Indigenous peoples in preserving their culture, as well as the goodwill of Catholics and other Canadians for both truth and reconciliation. – Alberta Premier Jason Kenney
“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 documents requested by survivors, police, and available local governments is the least the Church and federal government can do for Indigenous peoples. — Lori Idlout, Federal NDP Critic for Crown-Indigenous Relations
“This is an important first step towards reconciliation and acknowledgment of the intergenerational trauma that residential schools have caused to Indigenous peoples on Turtle Island. 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. — Elmer St. Pierre, National Chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples
“I think today was a really good second start, because I think it started a long time ago when the leaders at the time, before I was there, asked for those same things.” — Audrey Poitras, President of the Métis Nation of Alberta.
“The story of cultural genocide, territorial dispossession and death in assimilationist schools run by the Catholic Church is shared by American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians in the United States. The residential school system in Canada was modeled after the federal residential school system in the United States. …I hope that your visit and apology to residential school survivors in Canada will mark the beginning of a new chapter of reparations and reparations between the Church and all Indigenous peoples. — Fawn Sharp, President of the National Congress of American Indians.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 25, 2022.