Catholic Church in Canada Apologizes to Indigenous People

The Catholic Church of Canada has issued a formal apology to indigenous peoples after the discovery in recent months of more than a thousand graves near former residential schools, but activists are still awaiting a mea culpa from Pope Francis considered crucial for the reconciliation process.

“We, the Catholic Bishops of Canada, express our deep remorse and offer an unequivocal apology,” they declared. They also recognized “the suffering experienced in the residential schools” and the “serious abuses which were committed by certain members” of the Catholic community. “Many religious communities and Catholic dioceses have served in this system which has led to the suppression of indigenous languages, culture and spirituality, without respecting the rich history, traditions and wisdom of indigenous peoples. », They affirmed.

A real “cultural genocide”

This declaration also acknowledges the “historical and continuing trauma, as well as the legacy of suffering and challenges that continues to this day for indigenous peoples”.

In total, more than a thousand anonymous graves near former Catholic Indian residential schools were found this summer, shedding light on a dark page in Canadian history and its policy of forced assimilation of First Nations. Some 150,000 Native American, Métis and Inuit children were forcibly conscripted into 139 such residential schools across the country, where they were cut off from their families, language and culture.

Many of them have been subjected to ill-treatment or sexual abuse, and more than 4,000 have died there, according to a commission of inquiry which had concluded to a true “cultural genocide”.

Ignites and appeasement

In recent months, the gruesome discoveries have sparked dread and anger in the country. Symbolically, the Canadian flag on the Peace Tower in Ottawa remains at half mast to pay tribute to Indigenous children since the end of May and the discovery of the remains of 215 children in Kamloops, British Columbia (west). The National Day, July 1, was marked by rallies across Canada that took thousands of people to the streets, most dressed in orange t-shirts, the color associated with tribute to former native residents.

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At the same time, several Catholic churches were set on fire or vandalized.

In a gesture of appeasement, Ottawa appointed an Inuit woman Governor General of Canada, the first Indigenous person to serve as Queen Elisabeth II’s representative.

Appeal to the Pope

But many indigenous groups are waiting for another highly symbolic gesture, this time from the Pope: they have repeatedly called for an apology from the Sovereign Pontiff, and for him to come and present them to Canada. An indigenous delegation is to be received by Pope Francis in December.

“We want an apology,” said Rosanne Casimir, chief of the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation in early June, after announcing the discovery of 215 child remains in Kamloops. “It will be stronger coming from the head of the Catholic Church and from our point of view, I think he owes that to the indigenous people,” said David Chartrand, vice-president and spokesperson for the Ralliement National des Métis, beginning of July.

According to this Indigenous leader, an apology is essential to begin a process of healing and reconciliation, but they will only be truly effective if Pope Francis comes to present them on Canadian soil and in particular in the west of the country where the Indigenous residential schools. were the most numerous.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who said he made reconciliation with indigenous peoples one of his priorities, himself deplored the refusal of the Pope and the Catholic Church to recognize their “responsibility” and their “part. of guilt ”in the management of residential schools.

The bishops’ apologies come less than a week before the first National Truth and Reconciliation Day, in honor of missing children and residential school survivors, scheduled for September 30.

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