Lheidli T’enneh Chief Dolleen Logan is demanding the leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis visit Canada and apologize to Indigenous people for the crimes committed at residential schools.
Chief Logan said the only way for healing to begin is to have the head of the Catholic Church visit residential school sites – particularly in B.C. and Saskatchewan - and apologize directly to the families of the children who never made it home.
The Catholic Church operated many residential schools across Canada on behalf of the Canadian government where over 150,000 Indigenous children were forcibly sent and many suffered abuse and even death.
Outrage over a lack of an apology has now reached new heights since First Nations in Saskatchewan and British Columbia reported ground-penetrating radar detected hundreds of unmarked graves at former school sites.
“I learned last week that a group of Canadian Indigenous leaders are scheduled to travel to meet with the Pope at the Vatican in December. They are hoping to convince – yes, hoping to convince – the pope to issue an apology for crimes committed against Indigenous children,” said Chief Logan.
“My point is if Pope Francis is truly remorseful and genuinely cares about Indigenous people in Canada he should come to Canada and not expect Indigenous leaders to go to Italy.”
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) said Indigenous leaders will visit the Vatican between Dec. 17 and 20 to meet with Pope Francis and "foster meaningful encounters of dialogue and healing.”
The CCCB said Pope Francis extended the invitation and is deeply committed to hearing directly from Indigenous people.
The bishops said in a statement the Pope wants to express his heartfelt closeness, address the impact of colonization and the role of the church in the residential school system, in the hopes of responding to the suffering of Indigenous Peoples and the ongoing effects of intergenerational trauma.
The bishops did not say whether the Pope will offer an apology.
“If Pope Francis were really serious about reconciling with Indigenous people in Canada, his first step would be to travel here as soon as possible and visit the unmarked graves in B.C. and Saskatchewan,” said Chief Logan.
“He would meet with the families of the kids who never made it home, who never got to chase their dreams and he would apologize to each family. He would then meet with Indigenous leaders to discuss ‘next steps’ in the investigation of these crime scenes and provide compensation for all costs associated with the ongoing investigations.”
She says Lheidli T’enneh members – many of whom are Catholic – are struggling with the ongoing news of unmarked graves being confirmed across the country.
“The bible did not do this to the children it was the priests and the nuns that punished these kids. For our survivors they are having a hard time. This had brought up so many memories and so much that they’ve buried deep. It is all coming up now,” said Chief Logan.
She also says she hasn’t been contacted by the local diocese of Prince George, but noted someone running a Catholic summer camp did ask for information on Lheidli T’enneh history which Chief Logan called “a start.”
“This is what I have been telling everyone. Take five minutes to read up on the history of your local First Nations.”
Prince George Diocese Bishop Stephen Jensen wrote a public letter on June 15, where he said it was wrong for the Church to “cooperate in policies that aimed to deny native children their language and culture and destroy their family life.”
In the letter, Bishop Jensen said the upcoming meeting will allow Pope Francis to hear the voices of Aboriginal peoples directly about the terrible history of residential schools and the Church’s complicity.
“It will give him the chance to respond to those voices. I am sure he will offer his own apology as pastor of the universal Church,” said Jensen.
In 2015, The Truth and Reconciliation Commission's final report into the residential school system called for the pope to come to Canada to apologize to survivors as well as their families and communities for the abuses faced by Indigenous children.
Then Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited the Vatican in 2017 and personally asked Pope Francis to apologize for the church's role in residential schools.
On June 25, Trudeau reiterated his call for the pope to come to Canada and apologize on behalf of the Catholic Church.
Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller also told a virtual news conference on June 29 that any act of healing requires an apology, “a full recognition of harm done,” which hasn’t been delivered by the Catholic Church.
“People expect to see Pope Francis deliver that in a full, complete and comprehensive manner,” said Miller.
Chief Logan said if the Pope comes to Canada it will show Indigenous Peoples he genuinely wants to travel the road to reconciliation.
“The days of coming to beg for an apology are over,” said Chief Logan. “I am hoping First Nations across Canada will stand with me and have the call out for the Pope to come here and not hope for an apology or beg for an apology.”
- with files from the Canadian Press