Pope Francis: Canada’s residential schools system was ‘cultural genocide’

AC Wimmer   By AC Wimmer for CNA


Pope Francis prays with journalists on a papal flight August 14, 2014. / Alan Holdren/CNA

CNA Newsroom, Jul 30, 2022 / 03:09 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has agreed with the view that the forced removal of Indigenous children from their families and their treatment in Canada’s residential school system was a form of “cultural genocide.”

Speaking to journalists on the papal plane on July 30, the pope explained that he had not used the term “genocide” during his public apologies for past abuses perpetrated by Catholics in the system because it had not come to mind.

Canada’s residential school system, to which Pope Francis referred, ran for more than 100 years. It worked to stamp out indigenous culture and language systematically, often by removing children from their families by force. Catholic organizations ran at least 60% of the government-funded boarding schools.

The 85-year-old pontiff spoke at the end of a week-long trip to Canada in which he traveled to Edmonton, Québec, and Iqaluit on what he called a “penitential pilgrimage” to apologize and repeatedly express his shame and sorrow to the country’s indigenous communities for the role the Catholic Church played in the system.

In 2015, the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission concluded that the country’s residential schools system constituted a “cultural genocide.”

During the in-flight press conference on his return flight to Rome from Iqaluit, Francis said while he had not used the word genocide, he indeed had described one. “I apologized; I asked forgiveness for this work, which was genocide.”

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which ran from 2008-2015, concluded that thousands of children died while attending “Indian Residential Schools”, and called for action on 94 points.

The papal apologies were one of the commission’s four points addressed to the Catholic Church.

In a brief address Friday to delegates representing nine indigenous nations of Canada, Pope Francis said he was returning home “greatly enriched” after his weeklong journey.

“I have come as a pilgrim, despite my physical limitations, to take further steps forward with you and for you. I do this so that progress may be made in the search for truth, so that the processes of healing and reconciliation may continue, and so that seeds of hope can keep being sown for future generations — indigenous and non-indigenous alike — who desire to live together, in harmony, as brothers and sisters,” the pope said.

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  1. In 1948 the Government of Canada passed a law that required parental permission and a signature for any child entering a residential school. This requirement did not reduce enrollment.

  2. The combined term “cultural genocide” would seem to apply to the erasure of indigenous culture rather than to fatalities. Regarding fatalities, the figure of 3,200 to 6,000 is offered (some say more), compared to a total 150,000 who attended the residential schools (a fatality rate of 2.1 to 4.0 percent).

    Without discounting the tragedies associated with the government’s residential school system, but also acknowledging the virulence of European diseases (small pox, measles, typhus, cholera) on the non-immune First Nations, it might be instructive to know what the death rate of children was in Indian Country apart from the residential schools.

  3. Good educational systems run by wise school teachers prepare the young to be dynamic leaders of their families, communities, societies, nation, and the Planet.

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