Pope Francis apologises for abuses in Canada’s indigenous schools


The head of the Catholic Church apologised to Canada’s native people for the Church’s role in schools where indigenous children were abused and called for a “serious” investigation of the schools to help survivors and descendants heal.

Pope Francis, currently on a visit to Canada, said the forced cultural assimilation of indigenous children that separated them from their families is a “deplorable evil” and “disastrous error”.

Speaking near the site of two former schools in Maskwacis, Alberta on Monday, Pope Francis apologised for Christian support of the “colonising mentality” of the times.

“With shame and unambiguously, I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the indigenous peoples,” said Pope Francis, who arrived and left in a wheelchair due to a fractured knee.

The address to the First Nations, Metis and Inuit people was the first apology on Canadian soil by the pope as a part of tour to heal deep wounds that rose to the fore after the discovery of unmarked graves at residential schools last year.

The 85-year-old pope had promised such a tour to indigenous delegations that visited him earlier this year at the Vatican, where he made an initial apology.

Indigenous leaders wearing eagle-feather war headdresses greeted the pope as a fellow chief and welcomed him with chanting, beating of drums, dancing and war songs.

“I am here because the first step of my penitential pilgrimage among you is that of again asking forgiveness, of telling you once more that I am deeply sorry,” he said.

He was addressing the indigenous groups in the Bear Park Pow-Wow Grounds, part of the the ancestral territory of the Cree, Dene, Blackfoot, Saulteaux and Nakota Sioux people.

“Sorry for the ways in which, regrettably, many Christians supported the colonising mentality of the powers that oppressed the indigenous peoples. I am sorry,” he said. “In the face of this deplorable evil, the Church kneels before God and implores his forgiveness for the sins of her children.”

After the pope spoke, Chief Wilton Littlechild placed a feather headdress on the pontiff’s head. Pope Francis stood from his chair and wore it for a few moments before a clapping crowd.

An indigenous singer also performed a version of Canada’s national anthem in Cree, with tears pouring down her face. A red banner with names of missing children was carried before the pope, who kissed it.

Before his address, Pope Francis prayed silently in a field of crosses in the cemetery of a church for indigenous people and passed by a stone memorial to the two residential schools once in the area.

Between 1881 and 1996 more than 150,000 indigenous children were taken from their homes and brought to residential schools. Many children were starved, beaten for speaking their native languages, and sexually abused in a system that Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission called “cultural genocide”.

“I ask forgiveness, in particular, for the ways in which many members of the Church and of religious communities cooperated, not least through their indifference, in projects of cultural destruction and forced assimilation promoted by the governments of that time, which culminated in the system of residential schools,” the pope said.

Most of the schools were run for the government by Roman Catholic religious orders of priests and nuns.

Last year, the remains of 215 children at a former residential school in British Columbia were discovered. Since then, the suspected remains of hundreds more children have been detected at other former residential schools around the country. (Source: CNA)