Papal apology for Canadian residential schools

By Wena Harawira

The Pope is in Canada this week to begin a process of healing and reconciliation over the Catholic-run indigenous residential schools.

It follows a meeting at the Vatican in March this year with delegates of the three largest Indigenous groups in Canada—Métis, Inuit and First Nations—where the pope issued the first-ever official apology to Canada's indigenous community for the generations of trauma Indigenous peoples suffered as a result of a church-enforced policy to eliminate their culture.

It’s a notable shift for the papacy, which has acknowledged abuses in the residential schools and affirmed the rights and dignity of Indigenous peoples while continuing to uphold the “sacrifice” of Catholic missionaries.

Francis finally agreed to travel to Canada and apologise in person when the remains of around 200 children were found last year at the site of what was once Canada’s largest Indigenous residential school in British Columbia.

The trip won’t be easy for residential school survivors and their families. Trauma experts will be on stand-by at all events to provide assistance for school survivors, given the likelihood of triggered memories.

The Canadian government has admitted that physical and sexual abuse were rampant in the state-funded schools that existed from the 19th century to the 1970s. Some 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families and forced to attend in an effort to isolate them from the influence of their people, languages and cultures.

Its legacy has been cited by Indigenous leaders as a root cause of the epidemic rates of alcohol and drug addiction on Canadian reservations.

Pope Francis begins his week-long trip in the Maskwacis territory where he’ll deliver his first sweeping apology near the site of a former residential school.

He will end his visit at Iqaluit, Nunavut to the Inuit community there, before flying back to Rome.