Canadian Indigenous leaders plan trip to Vatican to request papal apology over residential schools

A group of Canadian Indigenous leaders are planning a trip to the Vatican this fall to request a formal papal apology for past abuses at Catholic-run residential schools.

Leaders of the Assembly of First Nations and the Métis National Council are planning the visit, alongside the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB). In Canada, Indigenous populations that historically populated the region south of the Arctic are referred to as “First Nations.” The “Métis” communities share both Indigenous and European heritage. 

Both National Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Assembly of First Nations and Vice-President David Chartrand of the Métis National Council told CBC News that the aim of the visit is to promote the healing process; the visit would come months after the remains of 215 Indigenous children were discovered at the site of a former Catholic-run residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia.

An apology would be “a very big part of healing,” Bellegarde said to CBC News. “Our missing children have not received the same dignity nor respect in death or in life that every human being deserves.”

Canada’s residential school system operated from the 1870s until the last school closed in 1996. First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children were separated from their families and sent to the schools, established by the federal government and run by Catholics and members of Protestant denominations, to force assimilation and strip them of familial and cultural ties.

The Catholic Church, or Catholic religious orders, ran more than two-thirds of these schools.

According to the commission, an estimated 4,100 to 6,000 students died as a result of neglect or abuse in the schools. That figure does not include the recently-discovered graves of 215 children at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. 

Individual bishops, religious orders, as well as the CCCB, have issued apologies for the role the Church played in operating the schools. The Canadian government, as well as other Christian churches, have similarly apologized.

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