Pope’s apology is too small and too late, say Canada’s natives

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On Monday, Pope Francis, head of the Catholic Church, apologized to the Indigenous peoples of Canada for the abuses committed by the Church and the forced assimilation of Indigenous children in residential schools across the country.

The pope said: “I’m sorry. 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 culminated in the residential school system. »

The pope is on a penitential tour of Canada after being asked over the years to apologize for the gross abuses and cultural genocide of indigenous communities perpetrated by the Catholic Church in collaboration with the Canadian government. Demands for an apology from the church grew last year after scores of unmarked graves of Aboriginal children, some as young as three, were found in church-run boarding schools where children natives were forcibly assimilated into the Christian religion.

The Pope also used terms such as “evil” and “colonial mentality” behind the policy that the Church snatched children from their families and placed them in boarding schools where they were hidden away, forced to work, many sexually abused, beaten for speaking their language and stripped of their culture.

Dr. Ajith Chandran, chief executive of Development Interlinks International, which has conducted research on First Nations communities in Canada, says the pope’s apology is a positive development, although it is only the beginning. Chandran says, “For the pope of the mighty Roman Catholic Church, apologizing for the mistreatment of Indigenous children in residential schools in Canada is history. It further reflects the grassroots collective efforts of many individual organizations and individuals who have not allowed this cultural cleansing to be swept under the rug.”

It is estimated that for more than a century, and until the 1990s, nearly 1,50,000 indigenous children were forcibly taken from their families by the Church. Thousands of Indigenous children never returned alive from church-run residential schools funded by the Canadian government.

After numerous unmarked graves were discovered in 2021 with hundreds of bodies, a handful of churches on Indigenous lands in the province of British Columbia have been found burnt down.

Investigations in Canada have also led communities to say that similar cultural genocide has also taken place in the United States.

Many natives are not convinced that the pope’s six-day trip, called the “penitential pilgrimage”, is enough. Others believe he is insincere in his apology as there is nothing tangible the church has done for the devastation it has caused to the people.

Chandran adds that many natives who are now Christians may find it appropriate, but many survivors might say it’s cosmetic. “Many would find this apology too late and top-down, more as a salute to the Christian community than a genuine effort at reconciliation. What happens after this apology in terms of practical help, restitution of artifacts and involved in the justice system could lessen that perception, says Chandran.

The Pope’s trip to Canada opened the wounds native people as they remember the physical and sexual abuse they had to endure in the Church-run residential school system. Many natives are trying to bring priests and nuns to justice for sexual assault.

Indigenous communities have sought Church repairs, however, a meager C$1.2 million was donated by the Catholic Church while $9.2 million was donated by the Protestant Church. The Canadian government paid almost C$4.7 billion to Indigenous peoples in reparations.

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