Pope in Canada: why his apology for school abuse will be significant

Some 150,000 Indigenous children were forcibly enrolled in state schools run by churches in the last century
Jul 21, 2022
<p>Photo: AFP</p>

Photo: AFP

Indigenous Canadians have been waiting and hoping for years for an apology from the pope for abuses at state schools run by churches in the last century, where some 150,000 Indigenous children were forcibly enrolled.

In an AFP interview, Marie-Pierre Bousquet, director of Indigenous studies at the University of Montreal, explains why Pope Francis’s visit is expected to be a key moment for the entire country, as it seeks to come to terms with this dark chapter in its history.

The pope has already apologized. Why the visit?

For Indigenous peoples and indeed for all Canadians, it is essential that the apologies be pronounced here, on Canadian soil. This will be more powerful and have a bigger impact, notably because in Indigenous cultures, the land of their ancestors is of particular importance.

And then, it is important that many survivors attend. It’s a very old request, they’ve been waiting for years.

Survivors of the Mohawk Institute, an Indigenous residential school, look on prior to a commemorative tree planting ceremony to honour and remember survivors in Brantford, Ontario, Canada, on May 24, 2022. Photo: AFP
Survivors of the Mohawk Institute, an Indigenous residential school, look on prior to a commemorative tree planting ceremony to honour and remember survivors in Brantford, Ontario, Canada, on May 24, 2022. Photo: AFP

But generations will experience this differently. We feel that young Indigenous people are interested but they don’t really seem to know what to expect. For the oldest, they hope but there has been so much disappointment, false promises already.

What do survivors hope for?

For some, the expectations are immense, they hope for great changes afterwards, progress in terms of reconciliation, funding to get out of their often very difficult conditions…

And even those who believe that it’s too little, too late are still very attentive to what is happening.

But in the end it should be mainly symbolic, emotional. And that’s already important because a lot of things need to come out. These are emotions that have not been expressed for years. Indigenous people need to speak up and be heard.

Even if what comes out is negative, it is crucial that all Canadians hear the anger, the sadness… It has to be visible.

This visit is not a celebration. It will be a time of commemoration and respect, residential school survivors need to be at the heart of the process for it to have any meaning.

What about broader Canadian society?

Society has evolved profoundly in recent months and years on these issues. The country is facing its history. Today, Canadians realize that the past that allowed Canada to be the great country it is today is not what they thought.

On the Indigenous side, there is a very strong desire for de-colonization, so that Canadian society today faces the consequences of the system of assimilation put in place for decades. It will be a huge disappointment if this realization does not happen.

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