One of Canada's most prominent Indigenous leaders and a man who once led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) says this week’s apology to residential school survivors from the Pope did not satisfy him, because it didn’t acknowledge the full scope of all that the Catholic Church as an institution did to harm generations of Indigenous people.
“Despite this historic apology, the Holy Father’s statement has left a deep hole in the acknowledgment of the full role of the church in the Residential School system,” former Canadian Senator and longtime Indigenous leader the Honourable Murray Sinclair said in a written statement released Tuesday.
The statement from the former chair of the TRC came one day after Pope Francis publicly apologized on Canadian soil for the Catholic Church’s long-standing role in the running of residential schools in Canada, and the abuse and mistreatment that many Indigenous people were exposed to in those schools for decades.
Murray said that although the Pope apologized for acts perpetrated by those within the Catholic Church, he did not lay enough blame on the church as an institution that was at the forefront of the residential school system’s attempts to assimilate Indigenous children into western culture, and eradicate Indigenous culture in Canada.
“It is important to underscore that the church was not just an agent of the state, nor simply a participant in government policy, but was a lead co-author of the darkest chapters in the history of this land,” Sinclair said. “It was more than the work of a few bad actors — this was a concerted institutional effort to remove children from their families and cultures, all in the name of Christian supremacy.
“Catholic leaders not only enabled the Government of Canada but pushed it even further in its work to commit cultural genocide of Indigenous peoples. In many instances, it was not just a collaboration, but an instigation. There are clear examples in our history where the church called for the Government of Canada to be more aggressive and bold in its work to destroy Indigenous culture, traditional practices and beliefs.”
Sinclair also said he does not believe that the Pope’s apology did enough to fully satisfy the TRC’s Call to Action #58 which calls upon the Pope to “issue an apology to Survivors, their families, and communities for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children in Catholic-run residential schools.”
“When we set out Call to Action 58 in the TRC final report, the goal was always to have Survivors hear first-hand not only remorse, but an acceptance of responsibility for what they were put through at the hands of the Church and other institutions,” Sinclair said.
Sinclair said he does acknowledge that everyone affected by the residential school system will have their own opinions and feelings about Monday’s apology and that for some it could be a step towards healing.
“I want to recognize the importance of the Pope’s apology to Survivors, their families, and communities,” he said. “For many survivors, I know that hearing the words of contrition from the Pope was, and is, an important factor in their personal recoveries and growth.
“My thoughts and prayers were with them as they listened.”
Sinclair is now also calling on the Catholic Church to continue to make efforts at reconciliation with Indigenous people because he said reconciliation requires much more than just an apology.
“Reconciliation requires action, not passiveness,” Sinclair said. “The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples specifically calls for action to assist in restoring culture, beliefs, and traditions destroyed through past actions as, to fail to do so, allows for the destructive agency to live with the benefit from those past misdeeds.
“For the children and descendants of Survivors, it is not enough that you have stopped abusing them, you must act to help them recover, as well as commit to never doing this again.”
An Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week in Canada for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience, or the experience of someone they know. The crisis line can be reached at 1-866-925-4419.
Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun