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Native Canadians are asking the Pope for records of residential schools

Indigenous delegates from Canada speak to the media after meeting Pope Francis at the Vatican
Mitchell Case, community-based historian, educator and Region 4 councilor for the Metis Nation of Ontario, gestures during a media conference after Indigenous delegates from Canada met with Pope Francis March 28, 2022 at the Vatican. REUTERS/Yara Nardi

March 28, 2022

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Survivors of boarding schools in Canada asked Pope Francis on Monday to guarantee unhindered access to church files on the facilities where tribal children have been abused and their culture denied.

Francis met with representatives from the Métis and Inuit nations for about an hour each, the first of four meetings this week with Canada’s indigenous people in a process both sides have described as a healing and reconciliation process.

“It was a very pleasant meeting,” Cassidy Caron, president of the National Council of Métis, told reporters afterwards, adding that the pope listened carefully as elderly survivors shared their stories.

The stated goal of the schools, which operated between 1831 and 1996, was to assimilate indigenous children. They were run by several Christian denominations on behalf of the government, most of them by the Catholic Church.

“He repeated ‘Truth, Justice and Healing’ (in English) and I take that as a personal commitment, so he personally committed to those three actions,” she said.

“I felt some sadness in his reactions…. We shared a lot with him,” Caron said.

About 150,000 children were taken from their homes. Many have been victims of abuse, rape and malnutrition in what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called “cultural genocide” in 2015.

Caron said the issue of records had come up. Records are kept in the dioceses of Canada and in the archives of the headquarters of various religious orders in Rome. Archbishop Donald Bolen of Regina, Saskatchewan, told reporters it is not believed to be the Vatican itself.

“The Métis nation needs to be sure to understand our full truth and that will be full access to church records and we will talk more about it with the Pope,” she said.

Canada’s indigenous peoples and the Canadian government want the Pope to visit Canada to apologize for the Church’s role in schools there.

Caron said she wasn’t disappointed that the Pope didn’t apologize Monday because Aboriginal people asked him to do so in Canada.

She said she expects the trip to be “soon.” Vatican sources have said it will likely be this summer.

“While the time for recognition, apology and atonement is long overdue, it is never too late to do the right thing,” she said. “Now it’s his (the Pope’s) turn to join us in this work,” she said.

Matan Obed, an Inuit leader, said he has asked the pope to help bring to justice a priest accused of molesting several children and who lives in France.

The recurring school scandal erupted again last year with the discovery of the remains of 215 children at the former Indian Residential School in Kamloops, in western Canada’s British Columbia province.

The discovery at the school, which closed in 1978, reopened old wounds and brought new demands for accountability. Hundreds more unmarked burial sites have since been found.

Francis was elected pope almost two decades after the last schools closed.

“Part of justice is acknowledging what happened in the past. That recognition, even if it wasn’t him personally, is really meaningful and important,” Caron said.

(Reporting by Philip PullellaEditing by Chizu Nomiyama and Marguerita Choy)

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Bobby Allyn

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