Original Published on Jul 25, 2022 at 18:37

By Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Prominent Indigenous leaders in Manitoba are reacting after Pope Francis spoke directly to residential school survivors in Alberta on Monday, and said that he was “deeply sorry” for the actions of many in the Catholic Church, and the “catastrophic” effects of those actions.

A planned six-day visit to Canada by the Pope began Monday with the Pontiff visiting Maskwacis, Alta., the location of the former Ermineskin Indian Residential School, which ran from 1894-1976.

Pope Francis is in Canada this week to further address and apologize for the Catholic Church’s long-standing role in the running of residential schools in Canada, and the abuse and mistreatment that so many Indigenous people were exposed to in those schools, after previously making a public apology in Rome back on April 1.

During Monday’s event, the Pope once again apologized on behalf of the Catholic Church to residential school survivors, and to all Indigenous people in Canada who have been affected by the residential school system.

“I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the Indigenous peoples,” Pope Francis said on Monday. “It is necessary to remember how the policies of assimilation and enfranchisement, which also included the residential school system, were devastating for the people of these lands.

“The overall effects of the policies linked to the residential schools were catastrophic.”

Former Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine, a survivor of two Manitoba residential schools and the first First Nations leader to speak publicly about residential school abuse more than 30 years ago, was in Alberta on Monday to witness the Pope’s apology.

He later reacted to the apology in a statement put out jointly by AFN and the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.

“Pope Francis’s words today and in Rome this spring represent a journey that has taken more than 180 years – from the time the doors of these so-called schools opened, to the challenges First Nations people live today,” Fontaine said.

“By apologizing for the abuses of the past, Pope Francis has helped to open the door for survivors and their families to walk together with the Church for a present and future of forgiveness and healing.

“I accept and choose this path.”

AFN Regional Chief for Manitoba Cindy Woodhouse called Monday’s apology “historical,” and said that it “recognizes the generations of harms caused by residential schools and the Catholic Church to Canada’s First Nations children and families.”

Woodhouse said she also understands that all survivors will now have their own feelings and opinions on the Pope’s apology, and on its meaning and significance.

“Every survivor will choose how they feel about the apology,” Woodhouse said.

AMC Acting Grand Chief Cornell McLean said that although the Pope’s apology will not take away the pain so many survivors continue to live with, he does hope it’s a step forward to heal the relationship between Indigenous people and the Catholic Church.

He added if that relationship is going to continue to be healed, the Catholic Church must now continue to work towards reconciliation, and that goes well beyond the Pope’s apology on Monday.

“An apology does not ease the pain of lost children who never returned home, or the legacy First Nations carry as the Survivors, their children, and their grandchildren,” McLean said.

“However, we encourage the Church to move forward in the spirit of reconciliation by making concrete commitments and true reparations going forward.”

This item reprinted with permission from The Sun, Winnipeg, Manitoba