Pope Francis apologized on Monday to Canada’s native people on their land for the Church’s role in schools where indigenous children were abused, branding forced cultural assimilation a “deplorable evil” and “disastrous error.”
Speaking near the site of two former schools in Maskwacis, in Alberta, Francis went even further, apologising for Christian support of the overall “colonizing mentality” of the times and calling for a “serious investigation” of the schools to assist survivors and descendants in healing.
“With shame and unambiguously, I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the indigenous peoples,” Francis said in the town, whose name means “hills of the bear” in the Cree language.
The 85-year-old pope, who is still using a wheelchair and cane because of a fractured knee, is making the week-long apology tour of Canada to fulfill a promise he made to indigenous delegations that visited him earlier this year at the Vatican, where he made the initial apology.
Indigenous leaders wearing eagle-feather war headdresses greeted the pope as a fellow chief and welcomed him with chanting, drum beating, dancing and war songs.
“I am here because the first step of my penitential pilgrimage among you is that of again asking forgiveness, of telling you once more that I am deeply sorry,” he said.
He was addressing the indigenous groups in the Bear Park Pow-Wow Grounds, part of the the ancestral territory of the Cree, Dene, Blackfoot, Saulteaux and Nakota Sioux people.
“Sorry for the ways in which, regrettably, many Christians supported the colonizing mentality of the powers that oppressed the indigenous peoples. I am sorry,” he said during the meeting with First Nations, Metis and Inuit people.
“In the face of this deplorable evil, the Church kneels before God and implores his forgiveness for the sins of her children.”
Between 1881 and 1996 more than 150,000 indigenous children were separated from their families and brought to residential schools. Many children were starved, beaten and sexually abused in a system that Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission called “cultural genocide.”