Officials and local residents have taken note of the Pope’s recent apology for the Catholic Church’s role in Canada’s residential school system. Some see the mea culpa as a good first step, but others think the church should do more.
As The Associated Press reported last week, Pope Francis met with members of the Indigenous community and residential school survivors in Maskwacis, near Edmonton, Canada, on July 25 to offer his formal apology.
“I humbly ask forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against indigenous peoples,” Francis said.
His words elicited mixed reactions. On July 27, National Indian Health Board Chairman William Smith released a statement about the visit.
“The National Indian Health Board recognizes the important step taken by Pope Francis in issuing a formal apology for the role of the Catholic Church in the implementation of Canada’s residential school system – a system modeled on the mission Indian and the residential schools created by the Indian Residential School. United States politics,” Smith said. “As a public health organization, the NIHB Program has focused on the legacy of unresolved historical and intergenerational trauma as underpinning the many health disparities and negative health outcomes experienced by American Indians and Alaska Natives today. »
Smith cited the passing of the Residential Schools Healing Resolution by the SSNA in February, which recalls “the devastating history and use of the Doctrine of Discovery and Manifest Destiny as political and religious justification for genocidal policies. against American Indians and Alaska Natives”.
“The resulting United States Indian Residential Schools Policy produced an alliance between the U.S. government and Catholic, Protestant, and other Christian and religious denominations and institutions whose sole contractual purpose was to eradicate Native American and Indigenous identity. of Alaska by removing children from their families and communities and enforcing assimilation through the school system,” Smith said. “In the very system where children should find education and security, Indigenous children have instead been subjected to physical, mental, spiritual and sexual abuse.”
Cherokee Nation Senior Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. commented on the apology.
“The discovery of mass graves in Canada of Indigenous children who were once in residential schools was truly disturbing and a horrifying illustration of the country’s past treatment of its Indigenous population – a story the country is now trying to atone for,” Hoskin said. . “It was also a stark reminder of the painful past of the American government’s anti-Indian policy in the 1930s and 1940s that stripped Native children of their homes and families to live in these schools and essentially ‘unlearn’ them. culture.”
Hoskin said the history of Indian boarding schools in the state of Oklahoma is full of injustices.
“We know that Oklahoma was home to many such boarding schools that our Cherokee elders were forced to live in and attend, and that was probably the most contributing factor to the loss of the Cherokee language,” said Hoskin. “We hope that more of these boarding school sites will be investigated and the injustices addressed.”
Father David Medina, pastor of St. Brigid Catholic Church in Tahlequah, called the apology important.
“Pope Francis has apologized for the abuse against Indigenous children in Canada,” Medina said. “He has taken an important step to begin a healing process. His public statement can help bring healing to these brothers and sisters. Indeed, the damage done to these children and their families cannot be repaired simply with apologies, nor can they restore the dignity stolen from these children. »
Medina said he understands the pope’s apology will not solve the problem or “return the dignity stolen from all those innocent children.”
“The Pope recognizes the hurt and assumes his responsibilities by speaking the truth,” Medina said. “In other words, he has accepted the real hurt done and wants to cooperate to bring healing and hope.”
Recently transferred to the area, Mary Vreeland was raised Catholic until the age of 20 and returned to the church 20 years ago. She shared her thoughts on the “apology tour.”
“I am appalled by the historic abuse of Indigenous people in residential schools – both in the United States and now, I am discovering, in Canada,” Vreeland said.
Vreeland said she had read about this story. She thinks there has been “misplaced concern” about the graves.
“Not a single mass grave was discovered in Canada in the last year,” she said.
Vreeland said she and other Catholics were “rightly outraged” by the behavior of those visiting Canada for the “apology tour”.
“We feel misrepresented by someone who travels to represent the Catholic Church while simultaneously participating in ceremonies that conflict with the eternal teachings of Christ passed down through the apostles,” Vreeland said. “A pope is supposed to convey these truths unchanged. It’s his job.
Vreeland does not want people to forget the positive opinion many natives had of Catholic missionaries.
In a 2015 report, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada said it had identified 3,200 deaths in named and unnamed records of confirmed deaths of residential school students. In 32% of these deaths, the Canadian government and these schools did not record the name of the deceased student.
Regarding the NIHB Program residential school healing resolution, Smith said the inclusion of the word “healing” is deliberate.
“Healing is essential to reclaiming identities that residential schools were designed to steal and eradicate, but healing can only come with truth. And everyone involved in the boarding school story must be transparent in pursuing that truth,” Smith said.
Smith called Francis’ apology a “welcome and promising start”, but only a first step.
Attempts were made to contact United Keetoowah Band Chief Joe Bunch for comment, but no response was returned by press time.