Schools largely run by Catholic church took 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children away from families and force them to convert
“Pope Francis will not apologize to survivors of Canada’s Indian residential schools for the role the Roman Catholic church played in operating the institutions or the abuses suffered there.
Some 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children were taken from their families over much of the last century and put in the schools, where they were forced to convert to Christianity and not allowed to speak their native languages. Many were beaten and verbally and sexually abused, and up to 6,000 are said to have died. Almost two-thirds of the 130 schools were run by the Catholic church.
Pope Faces Anger From Indigenous Canadians’ Over Refusal To Apologize For Past Abuse
Canada bishops’ group said Francis would not offer personal apology for residential school system that abused generations of children
“Survivors of Canada’s residential schools have expressed dismay after Pope Francis refused to apologize on behalf of the Catholic church for a system that abused thousands of indigenous children for generations.
The schools, many of which were run by missionaries, were used to convert indigenous children to Christianity through a governmental policy of “aggressive assimilation”. More than 150,000 children passed through around 80 schools across the country until the last one closed in 1996.
The Canadian government formally apologized for the program 10 years ago. In 2014, Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended a papal apology, which the prime minister, Justin Trudeau, personally lobbied for when he visited the Vatican last year.
While he has apologized for the “grave sins” of colonialism in South America, in a letter released Tuesday by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, the president of the organization said Pope Francis would not issue a personal apology.
Stephen Kakfwi, the former premier of the Northwest Territories, attended a number of residential schools in the Canadian Arctic. He argued that survivors of the schools were not calling for a personal apology from the pontiff, but an institutional response from the Catholic church.
“We asked as for an apology from the pope, the head of the Catholic faith, for the millions of people who are Catholics around the world,” said Kakfwi, who helped arrange visits by Pope John Paul II to the Arctic.
“He would, as a spiritual leader, say that this should have never happened if the clergy followed the true teachings of Jesus. He would be saying: ‘I’m sorry for the failings of the church as an institution.’”
Kakfwi said he suspected that part of the reason for Francis’s refusal was a difference of opinions amongst bishops in Canada, who remain divided on the issue.
Other survivors said the pope’s decision marked a perpetuation of the colonial mindset that gave rise to the system in the first place.
“It’s the continuation of a policy that we are always hoping would be discontinued by the church: the implication that indigenous people are less closer to God than the average non-indigenous person,” said Edmund Metatawabin, a former chief of the Fort Albany First Nation in Ontario.
Much of church doctrine taught to the students was aimed at separating them from their indigenous identity. Metatawabin’s father, himself the product of a residential school, had become “brainwashed” to believe traditional ceremonies and beliefs were bad.
Metatawabin attended the notorious St Anne’s Indian residential school for eight years, where he witnessed and experienced rampant sexual and physical abuse. Once, after vomiting into his porridge, he was forced to eat that same bowl of food.
The school even had a homemade electric chair, used for both punishment and the amusement of the staff.
“The pope is saying that white people have more to give the world than any indigenous person,” he said.”