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.”