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Pope Francis should come to Canada and apologize directly to residential school survivors: Chief

Lheidli T’enneh Chief Dolleen Logan. Bill Phillips photo

Pope Francis should come to Canada, meet with residential school survivors and apologize to them directly, says Lheidli T’enneh First Nation Chief Dolleen Logan.

Her call was prompted by news this week that several Canadian Indigenous leaders are planning to travel to the Vatican later in December, seek an audience with the Pope and an apology from the church for its role in the residential school system in this country.

That doesn’t sit well with Logan.

“If Pope Francis is truly remorseful and genuinely cares about Indigenous people in Canada, he should come to Canada and not expect Indigenous leaders to travel to Italy,” she said at a news conference this morning. “Why are we bowing to his wishes? Why are we still answering to the current leaders of the church, based in the Vatican, that has inflicted so much pain on Indigenous people in Canada for the last 150 years? Why are we still playing these colonial games that suggest Indigenous people are somehow beholden to the Pope, to the Queen or the federal government?”

She said it’s extremely likely that more unmarked graves will be found at former residential school sites, as have been discovered in Kamloops and Saskatchewan.

“He can come visit the crime scenes of the unmarked gravesites at residential schools in B.C. and Saskatchewan,” she said. “He can meet the families of the children who were killed and traumatized while in the care of the Catholic church. He can apologize directly to the families.”

He said the church can, and should, also provide financial support for the ongoing investigations at residential.

“He can finally take responsibility for his church’s actions against our children,” she said. “He can own up and ask permission from our leaders to begin to make this right … The days of coming to beg for an apology are over.”

She said this issue is hurting band members on many levels … partly because of the residential school aftermath and partly because a lot are Catholic.

“It’s hard,” she said. “It’s not the Bible. The Bible did not do this to the children. It was the priests and the nuns that punished these kids. For our survivors, they’re having a hard time. This brings up so many memories that they have buried deep.”

Shortly after the Kamloops discovery, the Ottawa announced it would free up $27 million approved in the 2019 budget to help bands search their lands for more unmarked graves. However, since that time, Logan says, information from Ottawa has been scarce. However, says Logan, money can’t repair the damage done.

“We’re not here for money,” she said. “Money can’t fix what has happened. Money can’t bring those kids back. Money can’t heal the torture done to those kids.”

She is hoping First Nations and the federal government will echo her call.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has confirmed that the meeting with Indigenous leaders is set for December 17-20 at the Vatican.

“Pope Francis is deeply committed to hearing directly from Indigenous Peoples, expressing his heartfelt closeness, addressing the impact of colonization and the role of the church in the residential school system, in the hopes of responding to the suffering of Indigenous Peoples and the ongoing effects of intergenerational trauma,” reads a statement from the bishops posted on their website. “The Bishops of Canada are deeply appreciative of the Holy Father’s spirit of openness in generously extending an invitation for personal encounters with each of the three distinct groups of delegates – First Nations, Métis and Inuit – as well as a final audience with all delegates together on 20 December 2021.

“This pastoral visit will include the participation of a diverse group of Elders/Knowledge Keepers, residential school survivors and youth from across the country, accompanied by a small group of Bishops and Indigenous leaders. 

“The Bishops of Canada reaffirm their sincere hope that these forthcoming encounters will lead to a shared future of peace and harmony between Indigenous Peoples and the Catholic Church in Canada.”

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