The Pope Apologizes For Cultural Genocide against Indigenous Communities in Canada

By Alejandra Garcia on July 28, 2022

An Indigenous woman sings a powerful rendition of O’ Canada, in Cree during the Pope’s visit. photo: Gavin John, Globe and Mail

Canada is opening its eyes to the past as it gradually uncovers with horror the traces of colonization and religion in the country. This is happening since a year ago when a mass grave with 215 remains of indigenous children was discovered in the vicinity of a former residential school in the British Columbia province in May, 2021.

Within weeks, authorities and leaders of the country’s native communities discovered another, and then another, until one year later they reached the macabre figure of thousands of clandestine graves with hundreds of thousands of bodies of indigenous children.

The discoveries have one thing in common: the graves are always in the vicinity of former schools controlled by the Church and the successive governments in the 19th and 20th centuries, created for the sole purpose of forced conversion of minors to the Catholic religion by force. In other words the children were abducted from their families to erase their indigenous languages and cultures.

Leaders of the communities where remains have been found are working with museum specialists and forensic offices to establish the causes and exact timing of the deaths, which are currently unknown. However, preliminary information from the government shows that many of these children were subjected to abuse and mistreatment, long periods of starvation, isolation and many died and buried in unknown graves.

This was verified a few months after the first discovery, made in the vicinity of the former Kamloops Residential School in British Columbia. Last April, one year after the first finding, Pope Francis decided to speak out on behalf of the victims.

In June due to the continuous uncovering of graves and pressure from the international community, the Pope decided to travel to Canada to offer a public apology to the people who survived that cultural genocide, to the new generations of Indians in the country, and to the authorities, who are trying to calm the scandal.

“I humbly ask forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against indigenous peoples,” His Holiness told the survivors, First Nations, Métis, and Inuit, whom he called to walk together, to pray, to work, so that the sufferings of the past give way to a future healing and reconciliation.

“I come to your native lands to tell you personally that I am grieving, to implore God for forgiveness, healing and reconciliation, to express my closeness to you, to pray with you and for you,” Francis said in Spanish, his native language.

To date, the largest find has occurred in the province of Saskatchewan, where 715 unmarked graves were unveiled mid-last year. Although others were already uncovered, it wasn’t until then that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized and asked the Church to assume its responsibility.

“The discoveries are a painful reminder of a shameful chapter in our country’s history,” Trudeau said at the time.

Between the 19th and 20th centuries, nearly 150,000 children were separated from their families, while it has been estimated that more than 4,000 died from mistreatment, neglect and diseases. Most of them were buried in mass graves.

The continuous detection of clandestine graves suggests that the findings are just beginning and that this could be the same reality in many countries in the region, especially in the United States, due to its geographic proximity.

The indigenous communities of the region hope that the Pope’s visit to Canada will raise awareness in the world about these atrocities and that it helps begin the journey toward healing and justice.

But from many indigenous people in Canada the Pope’s apology is not enough and they wonder what action the church will now take as a concrete way towards rectification. After the attempts of the Vatican to help cover up the thousands of cases of sexual abuse by the Catholic priests all over North America for decades it is understandable that there would be distrust and skepticism in this new discovery of genocide of young indigenous people in Canada. The question also must be asked if this happened in Canada how many more victims perished in the Native boarding schools in the United States?

Source: Resumen Latinoamericano – English