Pope says genocide occurred in Canada’s residential schools

WARNING: This story contains disturbing details

Although the word genocide was not heard in any of Pope Francis’ addresses during a week-long trip to Canada, on his flight back to Rome, he said that everything he described about the system of residential schools and their forced assimilation of indigenous children amounts to genocide. .

“I didn’t use the word genocide because it didn’t come to mind, but I described genocide,” Pope Francis told reporters on Friday during the papal flight from Iqaluit to Rome.

Over the past week, the Pope visited Edmonton, Quebec and Iqaluit on a “penitential pilgrimage” of healing, reconciliation and hope between the Catholic Church and indigenous people.

While addressing residential school survivors and their families in Maskwacis, Alta., Francis expressed his deep sorrow for the damage done to the church-run schools and asked for forgiveness “for the wrong done by so many Christians in the villages indigenous”.

The Catholic Church ran more than half of the residential schools in Canada. More than 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were forced to attend government-funded schools between the 1870s and 1997.

A person holds a protest sign during a community event for Pope Francis in the plaza in front of Nakasuk Elementary School in Iqaluit on Friday. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which released its final report in 2015, concluded that the school system was cultural genocide.

Since 2021, when the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves at the former residential schools made headlines, many are calling what had transpired more than cultural genocide. Last year, NDP Member of Parliament Leah Gazan made a failed bid for Parliament to recognize the residential school experience as genocide, as she believes it meets the UN’s definition of genocide .

The United Nations defines the term as a series of acts committed with the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, an ethnic, racial or religious national group”, such as killing members, inflicting bodily or mental harm on members, deliberate physical destruction . in whole or in part, to impose measures aimed at preventing births within a group, or to forcibly transfer the children of the group to another group.

The National Center for Truth and Reconciliation in Winnipeg, which keeps the records collected by the TRC, has so far documented 4,118 children who died in residential schools.

In his multiple speeches during the week, Pope Francis described the school system as a policy of assimilation and contribution, and that harmed families by undermining their language, culture and worldview.

“I condemned it, taking away children, changing the culture, the mind, the traditions, a so-called race. A whole culture,” Pope Francis told reporters.

“Yes, it’s a technical word, genocide. I didn’t use it because it didn’t come to mind. But yes, I described it. Yes, it’s genocide.”

Repeal the doctrine of discovery

Indigenous people from coast to coast have called for the papal bulls that make up the Doctrine of Discovery to be annulled.

The calls grew louder at each stop on the papal visit, with arguments arguing that the papal bulls, or edicts, are the root cause of genocide against indigenous peoples and laid the groundwork for Canada to institute assimilation policies such as the residential school system.

In this photo, taken moments before the start of mass at the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, two people are seen holding a banner that says ‘Repeal the doctrine’, referring to the Doctrine of Discovery. (Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters)

When asked about issuing a statement on the Doctrine of Discovery, Francis did not answer the question directly, but spoke of it as a doctrine of colonization.

“It’s true, it’s bad. It’s unfair. It’s still used today,” he said. “This mentality, that we are superior and the indigenous people don’t count, that’s why we have to work … what was done was bad, but with the awareness that the same colonialism still exists today.”

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience in residential care or recent reports.

A National Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line has been set up to support alumni and those affected. People can access crisis and emotional referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

Mental health counseling and crisis assistance are also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the Hope for Wellness hotline at 1-855-242-3310 or by chat online at www.hopeforwellness.ca.

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