Indigenous people hope Pope Francis goes beyond apology after visit to Canada

With Pope Francis set to embark on a six-day “penitential” visit to Canada this Sunday, Indigenous people say they hope the pontiff goes beyond delivering a simple apology.

Pan Palmater, Chair in Indigenous Governance at Toronto Metropolitan University, says the Pope also needs to offer “fulsome acceptance of responsibility” for the Catholic Church’s role in the residential school system, which saw widespread cases of abuse and neglect.

“No minimizing, no qualifying, but, ‘Here’s what we did, in terms of the people on the ground in residential schools,'” she told CTV’s Your Morning on Friday.

Rod Alexis, a residential school survivor from Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation in Alberta, called the Pope’s visit a “good first step.”

“It’s just a beginning. This announcement is just a beginning, understanding each other,” he told CTV News on Thursday.

Palmater also wants to see the Church take accountability for not sharing information and documents relating to residential schools, as well as its in action holding abusers accountable.

“That should all come before a really sincere apology,” she said.

Palmater also wants to see the Church properly fulfil its compensation commitments. In 2006, Catholic dioceses in Canada agreed to use their “best efforts” to fundraise $25 million for residential school survivors, but ended up raising less than $4 million.

There’s also the Doctrine of Discovery, which Palameter says the Church needs to revoke. Originating from statements from the Pope in the 1400s, the doctrine gave legal and moral justification during the “Age of Discovery” to legitimize European colonial land claims outside of Europe.

Indigenous leaders have also called on the Vatican to return colonial-era Indigenous artworks and artifacts, which the Vatican says were obtained as “gifts.”

And while some survivors need to hear the Pope’s apology for their own personal healing, Palmeter noted that not all Indigenous people are eager to see him in Canada.

“(There are) some who want him here and there’s a good number who don’t want him here, who actually take great offence that he’s even coming here. So, you know, there’s a wide variety of opinion,” she said.

For Alexis, who will be welcoming Pope Francis at Lac Ste. Anne, Alta., it’s important for the Pope to acknowledge the Indigenous members of the Roman Catholic community.

“We wanted (the Pope) to come here because we knew that healing has to begin someplace. He represents the most powerful religious organization in the world. And then a lot of us are part of that,” he said.


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