By Shari Narine, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com
Survivors stood and cheered in Maskwacis this morning when Pope Francis was gifted a headdress after his apology for the harms done to Indigenous people in the residential school system.
The apology itself, however, only received sporadic applause and not everyone stood when his address, delivered in Spanish by the Pope, with a translator providing the words in English, concluded.
Though his apology July 25 in Maskwacis, home of four First Nations about 100 km south of Edmonton, was more fulsome than the one delivered in Rome in April, it fell short again, according to many.
The Holy Father said sorry April 4 “for the role that a number of Catholics, particularly those with educational responsibilities, have had in all these things that wounded you, in the abuses you suffered and in the lack of respect shown for your identity, your culture and even your spiritual values.” On Monday the Pope expanded on that.
“I am deeply sorry. Sorry for the ways in which, regrettably, many Christians supported the colonizing mentality of the powers that oppressed the Indigenous peoples. I am sorry. 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.”
There was no mention of harms done systemically by the Catholic Church as an institution or a denunciation of the Doctrine of Discovery as many Indigenous people have called for and had hoped would be part of his address.
Prior to the Pope’s statement to a crowd that was much smaller than expected, a red banner listing the names of more than 4,000 children who lost their lives at residential schools was walked through the Maskwa Arbour.
International Chief Wilton Littlechild welcomed the Holy Father and talked about the testimonies of more than 7,000 residential school survivors he had heard during his six years as commissioner with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
That same commission listed the Pope’s apology in Canada as one of 94 Calls to Action in response to the legacy of residential schools.
Many suffered abuse, said Littlechild, and continue to suffer.
Littlechild recognized Pope Francis for hearing their words “and listening deeply” when the delegation of Indigenous survivors, Elders and youth, including Littlechild, made the trip to the Vatican this past spring.
It was with great encouragement, said Littlechild, that they heard from the Pope that he would come to Canada and express his sorrow.
Calling his visit a “penitential journey,” the Pope said he was aware of the continued “sufferings and traumas, the difficulties and challenges” that Indigenous people face in Canada.
“Although Christian charity was not absent, and there were many outstanding instances of devotion and care for children, the overall effects of the policies linked to the residential schools were catastrophic,” said the Pope.
“What our Christian faith tells us is that this was a disastrous error, incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is painful to think of how the firm soil of values, language and culture that made up the authentic identity of your peoples was eroded, and that you have continued to pay the price of this. In the face of this deplorable evil, the Church kneels before God and implores his forgiveness for the sins of her children.”
He continued “with shame and unambiguously. I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the Indigenous peoples.”
Pope Francis committed himself and the Canadian Bishops to support Indigenous people and said he would continue to encourage Catholics as well.
Prior to his address at Maskwa Arbour, the Pope stopped for silent prayer at the Ermineskin cemetery.
After, he was pushed in his wheelchair to the former Ermineskin residential school, where he spent a silent moment. Five tipis are erected on the site to mark the school.
The Pope then met with the chiefs of the four Nations that comprise Maskwacis. Together, with the chiefs walking behind the Pope in his wheelchair, they entered the grounds.
This afternoon, Pope Francis will be at the Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples in downtown Edmonton.