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NAN Statement as Pope Francis apologies for Abuses Suffered at Indian Residential Schools

Press Release

THUNDER BAY, ON: Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Deputy Grand Chief Anna Betty Achneepineskum, on behalf of the NAN Executive Council, has issued the following statement following an apology by Pope Francis for the abuses suffered at Indian Residential Schools to Indigenous delegates at the Vatican this week:

“It has taken tremendous courage for Survivors who have travelled so far to share their experiences at Residential Schools with Pope Francis. Our hearts are with Survivors, their families, communities, and all the children who never made it home.

For years we have called for an apology from His Holiness for the harm done to generations of Indigenous Peoples. I am encouraged that Pope Francis is finally confronting the suffering inflicted on our people through the Residential School system and accepted his responsibility to apologize on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church.

We acknowledge and respect that not all Survivors may accept his apology. For those who do, we hope this helps them find peace as their healing journey continues.

Many Survivors have waited for decades for these words, and we pray for those who did not live long enough to hear them. We encourage His Holiness to deliver these words in person to our Nations as a symbol of the Church’s commitment to reconciliation.

We hope these words are followed by action, including a continuation of healing initiatives and activities for Survivors and their descendants. It is estimated that more than 10,000 youth went missing while attending Residential School institutions, and thousands of unmarked graves are now being recovered. The responsibility for this atrocity must be reflected in any process moving forward.”

NAN supported a motion by MP Romeo Saganash in 2018 for Canadian Catholic bishops to request an apology by the Pope. The motion called on the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops to:

  • invite Pope Francis to Canada to apologize on behalf of the Catholic Church for its role in the Indian Residential School system;
  • fulfill the Church’s financial obligations to raise $25 million for Indigenous healing under the IRS Settlement Agreement; and
  • make a consistent and sustained effort to provide relevant documents to Survivors.

More than 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families and sent to schools run by the Catholic, Protestant, and Presbyterian churches to convert them to Christianity. Of the 139 church-run government-funded schools across Canada, the most notorious was St. Anne’s Indian Residential School.

St. Anne’s was run by the Oblate Catholic nuns in Fort Albany First Nation on the remote James Bay coast. Innocent children were malnourished, physically assaulted, sexually abused, and tortured. They went to bed hungry and lived in fear of a homemade electric chair. Some were forced to eat their own vomit.

A Papal apology is one of the 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Final Report.

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