In Canada, the pope on a mission of reconciliation with the natives

In Canada, the pope on a mission of reconciliation with the natives

Towards historic apologies? Pope Francis arrived Monday at the site of a former boarding school for natives in Canada, where he is expected to renew, in front of thousands of Native Americans, his request for forgiveness for the role played by the Church for more than a century in violence inflicted on generations of children.

This visit has been awaited for years by these peoples — First Nations, Métis and Inuit — who today represent 5% of the Canadian population.

At the heart of this “penitential pilgrimage”, the painful chapter of “residential schools” for indigenous children, a system of cultural assimilation which caused at least 6,000 deaths between the end of the 19th century and the 1990s, and created a trauma on 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 so far.

In April, everything changed with an apology from Pope Francis. Thousands of indigenous people are now waiting for an apology on their land.

It is Maskwacis, an aboriginal reserve about a hundred kilometers south of Edmonton, that the pope has chosen for his first trip. He must pray on the site of the former Ermineskin boarding school, one of the largest in Canada, open from 1895 to 1975.

To receive him, several thousand people had gathered, under a fine rain and in an atmosphere of contemplation. Many natives came in groups, some wearing clothes with the name or logo of their community. Others, the orange t-shirt symbol of the natives.

– “Special day” –

“For me, it’s a very special day because I survived abuse from a Catholic priest when I was seven,” André Carrier of the Manitoba Métis Federation told AFP. the head and medallion around the neck.

“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. Several generations have not been respected, so it is a very important moment for reconciliation,” he added.

“I am going to ask him to pray for me, for my family and for the healing of my people”, adds very moved Gilda Soosay, who will be one of those who will be able to meet the pope.

After his silent prayer in the cemetery, the pope must deliver his first speech, in Spanish, in front of thousands of people, including former students of boarding schools.

The Pope will then proceed at 4:30 p.m. (22:30 GMT) to the Church of the Sacred Heart of First Peoples in Edmonton.

“I hope this visit is the beginning of a change in history and a way for us to begin our healing journey,” said George Arcand Jr, Grand Chief of the Confederacy of Treaty 6 First Nations. .

In April, the Holy Father had for the first time apologized to the Vatican for the role played by the Church in the 130 boarding schools in the country, castigating the “ideological colonization” and the “action of assimilation” of which “so many ‘children were victims’.

– “Cultural genocide” –

Some 150,000 indigenous children were forcibly enrolled in these schools, where they were cut off from their families, their language and their culture, and often the 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 a mass at Commonwealth stadium in Edmonton and will 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. His program has been arranged to limit his movements.

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