Apology and visit from Pope Francis is long overdue

Pope Francis arriving in Canada in July 2022, greeted by Chief George Arcand who was serving as Confederacy of Treaty 6 First Nations Grand Chief at the time. (Catholic News Service Photo)

by Ryan Clarke, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

(Lethbridge Herald) – Pope Francis is in Canada for a week-long  trip working towards reconciliation and healing between the Roman  Catholic Church and the Indigenous communities of Canada, visiting  Edmonton, Quebec City, and Iqaluit.

With an aim to foster healing  and reconciliation that has been spurred by an invitation back in 2021  from Canada’s Catholic bishops and following a public apology in April  this year.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s  Call to Action of 2015 called on the Pope to issue an apology to  survivors and their families for the role the Roman Catholic Church  played in colonization and participation in the operation of residential  schools throughout Canada.

For many this apology was long  overdue, with the Call to Action asking for the apology more than seven  years ago, with Indigenous Peoples feeling it needed more urgency and  questioning why the visit has taken this long.

“I think it only  happened because of continued public pressure by Indigenous people,”  said Lori Campbell, associate vice president of Indigenous Engagement at  the University of Regina.

Campbell is the granddaughter of a residential school survivor living with the impact of what they did to her family.

“The church actively fought to destroy records from the TRC, about the  settlements, and Indigenous community, and (Indigenous people) had to  fight for that not to happen. They, the churches, have not been  forthcoming, the Catholic included, on releasing records. And I think  there’s reasons for all that.”

Campbell says, as Indigenous  people, they have the right to know what those records hold and what  happened in the residential schools, while noting that withholding the  information just adds to the deceitfulness and covers up the truth.

Accountability is what a lot of Indigenous people are looking for, and  with the many levels of cover-up it only adds to the pain and suffering  in the communities affected by these actions.

“The Catholic  Church owes money to residential school survivors, and they’ve paid no  money,” said Michelle Robinson, host of the podcast Native Calgarian.

“So they have obligations they have yet to actually take care of  legally, and nobody’s holding them to account for that. This is a lot of  painful things that are being brought up as a result. The churches  themselves, they haven’t been fulfilling their mandate of meaningful  reconciliation, because if their own leader, the Pope, will not  recognize the gravity of what has happened in genocide, then they don’t  have the obligation to do meaningful work.”

Robinson notes the Doctrine of Discovery and how it lays claim to the land that Indigenous people had already inhabited.

“There’s another call to action called the rescinding of the Doctrine  of Discovery. It’s the foundation of Canada, it’s the foundation of  laying claim to this land, ignoring Indigenous people and claiming it  for King, King and Country, and Christianity. And as a result, a lot of  Canadian law is based on the Doctrine of Discovery.”

Many  Indigenous groups have been working hard to set up support for those  suffering. Indigenous mental health workers and cultural support  providers will be on-site for the survivors, families, and communities  affected by residential schools.

The Hope for Wellness Help Line  is providing support to all Indigenous Peoples living in Canada,  available at 1-855-242-3310 or online at hopeforwellness.ca.

True  healing can hopefully begin with this visit from the Pope, but  awareness will need to always be fostered with teachings on what has  been done and not shying away from the responsibility of ownership over  the residential schools.

“The Indigenous people that are going  from my community and from others, I hope that their expectations are  met, and that they don’t come away feeling further traumatized and not  heard,” said Campbell. “My biggest hope for all of this is, for those  that attend, that they leave with what it was that they were seeking.”

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