Wednesday July 27, 2022

Pope’s sorry to indigenous people not enough

Pope’s sorry to indigenous people not enough

Pope Francis

The apology offered by Pope Francis, head of the Roman Catholic Church, to the indigenous people of Canada on their soil – the Pope is on a visit to Canada – for forcefully separating children of the indigenous people from their parents, forcing them not to speak their mother tongue, torturing them and burying then in unmarked graves from the 19th century onwards, raises many questions, mainly moral but also social and political. Pope Francis offering the apology at Maskwacis in Alberta said on Monday, said, “I am here because the first step in my penitential pilgrimage among you is that of again asking forgiveness, of telling you once more that I am deeply sorry.” He was speaking at the Pow-Wow grounds, part of the ancestral territory of the Cree, Dene, Blackfoot, Saulteaux and Nakota Sioux peoples. Pope Francis seeking forgiveness said, “Sorry for the ways in which, regrettably, many Christians supported the colonising mentality of the powers that oppressed the indigenous peoples. I am sorry. In the face of this deplorable evil, the Church knees before God and implores his forgiveness for the sins of her children.” Wallace Yellowface, 78, a boarding school survivor from the Pikanni Nation Reserve in southern Alberta, was not convinced of the effectiveness of the Pope’s apology. He said, “It’s late for an apology, and I don’t think it will do me much good. He is searching for his sister who attended a similar residential school like him.

It is not just Wallace Yellowface who are dissatisfied with the papal apology. It is estimated that between 1881 and 1996, 150,000 indigenous children were taken away from their families and kept at residential schools where they were forced to erase their family and tribal roots, beaten, and sexually abused. Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission called it “cultural genocide”. Most of the schools were run by Roman Catholic priests and nuns. In 2021, the remains of 215 children of a former residential school were found in British Columbia. Survivors and leaders of indigenous people want more than an apology. They want financial reparations, return of cultural artefacts of the indigenous people taken away by the missionaries and taken to Rome. They are also demanding an abuser who is living in France to be brought to justice and they want the release of records held by the religious orders, which ran the schools. There is also a demand that the Roman Catholic Church should renounce the papal bulls that supported the policy of the colonial governments taking away their land.

What has happened to the children of indigenous people in Canada has also happened to children of the aborigines in Australia. The children of the Aborigines were forcibly separated from their parents and from their tribes, and they were Christianised and westernised. The practice was exposed, and the children were called “the lost generation”, and attempts were made to record their life stories.

It is indeed the case that a mere apology, however sincere and deeply felt as in the case of People Francis, will not be enough. There is need for other things to happen. In January this, the Canadian government agreed to pay 40 billion Canadian dollars (US$31.5 billion) to First Nations children who were taken away from their families. The Canadian Catholic Bishops Conference has promised to raise 30 million Canadian dollars for healing and other initiatives, and they have managed to raise 4.6 million Canadian dollars. It remains indisputable that the European colonisers and the Roman Catholic Church can’t wash off their hands by offering an apology. The Roman Catholic Church and the many Protestant churches must acknowledge the crimes of the missionaries against humanity while writing their histories.

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