‘A catastrophic mistake’: Pope Francis made historic apology to Canada’s Native Americans on Monday. He apologized for decades of wrongdoing in residential schools.
Words that have been eagerly awaited for years by these peoples who today represent 5% of the Canadian population – First Nations, Métis and Inuit.
‘I am depressed. I apologize,’ the Pope said in Maskwacis, western Canada. Referring to a ‘catastrophic error’, he acknowledged the responsibility of some members of the Church in the organization where ‘children were subjected to physical and verbal, psychological and spiritual abuse’. The Pope’s words, translated into English after the apology, were met with loud applause.
In all, His Holiness asked for “forgiveness” three times “with shame and clarity” during this first address, delivered in Spanish on the site of the former Erminsk boarding school. Indigenous communities (First Nations, Métis and Inuit), they were very emotional.
Francois further asserted that ‘assimilation policies have resulted in the systematic marginalization of indigenous peoples (…) their languages and cultures have been denigrated and suppressed’ and ‘children have been subjected to physical and verbal, psychological and spiritual abuse’.
‘Key to harmony’
For this ‘false pilgrimage’ the Pope put a painful chapter on ‘residential schools’ for Aboriginal children, a system of cultural assimilation that claimed at least 6,000 lives between the end of the 19th century and the 1990s. Generations.
The Canadian government, which has paid billions of dollars in compensation to former students, has officially apologized for setting up these schools 14 years ago to ‘kill the Indian at the heart of the nation’.
The Anglican Church did the same. But the Catholic Church, which is responsible for over 60% of these boarding schools, has always refused to do so.
Thousands of people have come
It was on the Maskwazis tribal reserve, a hundred kilometers south of Edmonton, near the former Erminskin boarding school that was open from 1895 to 1975, that the Pope chose to grant his first pardon on Canadian soil.
To receive him, several thousand people gathered in a contemplative atmosphere under a fine rain. Many wore clothing bearing the name or symbol of their community. Others, the orange t-shirt emblem of the tribe.
“It’s a very special day for me because I was abused by a Catholic priest when I was seven,” Andre Carrier of the Manitoba Métis Federation told AFP. Medal on head and neck.
‘What we experienced was great pain. It is a time to forgive and work together with the Catholic Church for the future of society. Many generations have not been respected, so this is a very important moment for reconciliation,” he added.
The Pope will then travel to the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Edmonton at 4:30pm (12:30pm Swiss time on Tuesday). “I believe this journey will be the beginning of a turning point in history and a way to begin our healing journey,” said George Arcand Jr., Grand Chief of the Treaty 6 First Nations Confederation.
In April, the Holy Father apologized to the Vatican for the first time for the Church’s role in the country’s 130 boarding schools.
About 150,000 indigenous children were forcibly enrolled in these schools, where they were cut off from their families, their language and their culture, and often suffered physical, psychological and sexual violence.
Little by little, Canada is opening its eyes to this past that now qualifies as ‘cultural genocide’: the discovery of more than 1,300 anonymous graves in 2021 near these residential schools created a shock wave.
On Tuesday, the pope will celebrate a mass at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton and visit Lac Saint-Anne, the site of an important annual pilgrimage. He will then join Quebec on Wednesday, with a final stop on Friday in Iqaluit (Nunavut), the Canadian far north Arctic archipelago.
Still weakened by knee pain, the Argentine Jesuit travels in a wheelchair. His program is organized to limit his movements.
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