In Canada, the pope “asks forgiveness for the evil” done to the natives

In Canada, the pope “asks forgiveness for the evil” done to the natives

‘A devastating mistake’: Pope Francis on Monday issued a historic apology to the Native American peoples of Canada, asking for “pardon for the wrong” done over decades in residential schools for Native Americans.

“I am grieved. I ask forgiveness,” the pope said in Maskwacis, Alberta, in western Canada. Referring to the “wounds still open”, he recognized the responsibility of certain members of the Church in this system where “children have suffered physical and verbal, psychological and spiritual abuse”.

The words of the sovereign pontiff had been awaited for years by these peoples – First Nations, Métis and Inuit – who today represent 5% of the Canadian population. They were greeted with loud applause.

After praying in silence at Maskwacis Cemetery, Francis asked for “pardon” three times, “with shame and clarity”, during this first speech on the site of the former Ermineskin boarding school, in the presence of many survivors and members of indigenous communities, very moved.

“Assimilation policies ended up systematically marginalizing indigenous peoples,” he insisted, lamenting that “many Christians supported the colonizing mentality of the powers” that “oppressed” them.

– “Important for reconciliation” –

The painful chapter of “residential schools” for indigenous children caused at least 6,000 deaths between the end of the 19th century and the 1990s and created trauma over several generations.

The Canadian government, which has paid billions of dollars in reparations to former students, officially apologized 14 years ago for establishing these schools set up to “kill the Indian in the heart of the child”.

The Anglican Church then did the same. But the Catholic Church, in charge of more than 60% of these boarding schools, has always refused to do so.

Under a light rain and in a collected atmosphere, around 2,000 people – including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau – gathered near the former Ermineskin boarding school, one of the largest in Canada, open from 1895 to 1975. Many were wearing clothing with the name or logo of their community. Others, the orange T-shirt symbol of the natives.

“It was an exceptional day, a historic day,” reacted during a press conference Vernon Saddleback, chief of the Samson Cree Nation, who said he was “grateful”.

These apologies are “a first step” but “there is still a lot of work to do”, reacted George Arcand Jr., Grand Chief of the Confederation of First Nations of Treaty No. 6.

“It is a great pain that we have suffered. It is a time to forgive and work together with the Catholic Church for the future of the community,” André Carrier, from the Manitoba Métis Federation, told AFP. , hat on the head and medallion around the neck.

– “Reconciliation” –

In the afternoon, the pope then went as a “friend” to the restored Church of the Sacred Heart of First Peoples in Edmonton, where he insisted on “reconciliation”.

“No one can erase the dignity violated, the evil suffered, the betrayed confidence. And even our shame to us, believers, must never be erased”, he affirmed.

In April, the pope for the first time apologized to the Vatican for the role played by the Church in the country’s 130 boarding schools, where some 150,000 indigenous children were forcibly recruited, cut off from their families, their language and of their culture, and often victims of physical, psychological and sexual violence.

Little by little, Canada is opening its eyes to this past, now qualified as “cultural genocide”: the discovery of more than 1,300 anonymous graves in 2021 near these boarding schools created a shock wave.

On Tuesday, the pope will celebrate mass at a stadium in Edmonton and travel to Lac Sainte-Anne, site of an important annual pilgrimage. He will then join Quebec on Wednesday before a last stop on Friday in Iqaluit (Nunavut), a city in the far north of Canada in the Arctic archipelago.

Still weakened by knee pain, the Argentinian Jesuit travels in a wheelchair and his program has been adapted to limit his movements.

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