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Tribal leaders and members react to Pope’s apology on schools

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MASKWACIS, Alta. (AP) — Pope Francis’ apology on Monday for the Catholic Church’s role in Canada’s residential school system and the abuses that took place there was a stark denunciation of a policy of forced assimilation decades that sought to deprive Indigenous children of their culture and traumatized generations.

Speaking at the site of a former residential school south of Edmonton, Alberta, the pontiff said he was “deeply sorry” for the actions of many people in support of “the colonizing mentality of the powers that oppressed the Indigenous Peoples “.


He also expressed sadness at the systemic marginalization, denigration and suppression of Indigenous peoples, languages ​​and culture in schools; the “physical, verbal, psychological and spiritual abuse” suffered by children after being removed from their homes at a young age; and the resulting “indelible” family relationships.

“I wish to reaffirm it myself, with shame and without ambiguity. I humbly ask forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against indigenous peoples,” Francis said.

Here are some reactions to the pope’s words:

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“It was a feat on the part of the indigenous community to convince Pope Francis to come to a First Nations community and humble himself before the survivors as he did today. It was special. And I know that meant a lot to a lot of people. And every time he said the word sorry, people started cheering,” Phil Fontaine, a survivor of residential school abuse and former leader of the Assembly of First Nations, said in an interview with The Associated Press.

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“Maybe we all need time to fully absorb the gravity of this moment. … If you want to help us heal, stop telling us to get over it. … We can’t get over this. when intergenerational trauma affects every young person and every member, every family that has had a survivor of residential schools. Instead of getting over it, I’m asking you to get on with it, learn our history, learn about our culture, our people, who we are,” Chief Desmond Bull of the Louis Bull Tribe said at a press conference.

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It was “validation that it really happened” for the apology to be heard by non-Indigenous people, Chief Tony Alexis of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation said, but the Pope must follow up on the action and “can’t just say sorry and walk away.”

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“I’ve waited 50 years for this apology, and finally today I heard it,” Evelyn Korkmaz, a school survivor, told a news conference. Sadly, many family and community members did not live to see him due to suicide or drug addiction, she said. But “I was hoping to hear some sort of work plan” for how the church would deliver the documents and take other concrete steps.

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“I have many survivors and thrivers in my community who are happy to hear that the Pope has come to apologize. Words cannot describe how important today is to the healing journey of many members of the First Nations,” Samson Cree Nation Chief Vernon Saddleback said at a press conference. “The Pope apologizing today was a day for everyone in the world to sit down and to listen.”

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“It’s something that’s needed, not just for people to hear but for the church to be accountable,” said Sandi Harper of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, who attended the papal event in honor of his late mother, a former boarding school student. Still, she told AP that some Indigenous people are not ready for reconciliation: “We just have to give people time to heal. It’s going to take a long time.”

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Associated Press religious coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.