Apology Given by the Catholic Church after 40 Years
By: Leon Chen
Pope Francis landed in Edmonton today to apologize to Indigenous people for the abuse they suffered at the hands of residential schools, with the Catholic Church playing a large role in the creation of them.
“I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the Indigenous peoples,” Francis said to a large crowd of Indigenous people at the Ermineskin Cree Nation, the site of one of 130 schools that were spread across Canada. Established by Roman Catholic missionaries, the school become overcrowded early on, as a result of underfunding by the federal government. That overcrowding lead to the spread of disease through the school, with an estimated 50% of the students contracting tuberculosis. According to testimony from former students, many suffered from physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.
The last church-run residential schools in Canada that Indigenous children were forced to attend, and where many were abused, closed in the 1990s. Since then, the Canadian government and Indigenous communities have worked to address the damage inflicted there, which continues to today.
Last year, the Erminskin Cree Nation brough technicians to search the former school ground and nearby cemeteries for remains of former students in unmarked graves. It follows a recent announcement of evidence of 215 graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia. Pope Francis did not see any of the school buildings that continue to haunt the memories of former students. They were demolished long ago and replaced by a black stone monument inscribed with a drawing of the school, its name and dates of operation, along with “Honoring Our Survivors”.
Before the pope arrived, Elder Ted Quewezance, a residential school survivor from Keeseekoose First Nation, said, “You will have to decide if you will accept or reject the apology.” “Most of my life I was a very angry man and a very hurt man,” he said, “All that’s happened to me, I know that accepting the apology will help me let go of my pain. When you are abused, that is all you think about it. You relive the experience over and over again.”