Residential school apology wanted from Pope Francis during Canada visit
Having the head of the Catholic Church, which played a fundamental role in Canada’s residential schools, on Canadian soil during any reconciliatory effort is a vital part of the work, says the executive director of an Indigenous cultural society.
Cheryl Whiskeyjack, of Edmonton’s Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society, said she was happy to hear Tuesday Pope Francis was willing to visit Canada in the spirit of reconciliation.
“It was his church that perpetuated those horrors,” she told CTV News Edmonton, adding, “We still have people in this country today who deny that those things happened.”
She pointed to Canada’s former Indian affairs minister and prime minister Jean Chrétien claiming not to know any abuse was taking place in the residential school system.
“If the head of the church doesn’t admit and apologize, then people will continue to do these things.”
An itinerary or date for Pope Francis’ tour has not been released.
It’s expected to happen after a December meeting at the Vatican with First Nations, Métis and Inuit leaders.
A papal apology was one of 94 recommendations made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015, and calls for one have only grown in the past year with the confirmation of unmarked graves at sites of former residential schools.
“I’d like to think he knows that that is what is going to be asked of him and I think the fact that he’s been willing to come to Canada to have those discussions speaks to his willingness to give that apology to Indigneous people in Canada,” Whiskeyjack speculated of the Pope’s plans.
“Having him on Canadian soil to give an apology would be absolutely ideal for our Indigneous people here in Canada.”
The Vatican said in a statement that the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops invited Francis to travel to Canada in the "context of the long-standing pastoral process of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples."
The statement said the Pope indicated his "willingness" to do so at an undetermined date.
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a statement that there's been meaningful discussions with Indigenous people, especially those affected by residential schools.
"We pray that Pope Francis' visit to Canada will be a significant milestone in the journey toward reconciliation and healing," said the group's president, Most Rev. Raymond Poisson.
Whiskeyjack sees the developments as a step forward on the path toward reconciliation.
“Canada is waking up to this truth and is really alongside us for the first time, demanding some answers in this and demanding some reparations on these matters. And so it really is time for us to move forward and I think an act like this will help us go forward from there.”
If you are a former residential school student in distress, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419
Additional mental-health support and resources for Indigenous people are available here.
With files from CTVNews.ca