Pope Francis's apology falls short for some Indigenous people in Quebec

The Pope’s first public remarks on his Canadian trip for reconciliation were an emotional moment for many Indigenous people in Quebec, but for some, they fell short of expectations.

Indigenous survivors in Quebec express mixed reactions to apology

Pope Francis expressed sorrow and asked for forgiveness for "the evil committed by so many Christians against the Indigenous peoples" in Maskwacis, Alta, on Monday. (Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters)

The Pope's first public remarks on his Canadian trip for reconciliation were an emotional moment for many Indigenous people in Quebec but fell short of the expectations of some.

Pope Francis was in Maskwacis, Alta., on Monday morning, where he apologized for the harmful actions of members of the Church and Catholics toward First Nations, Métis and Inuit, and the role these individuals played in the residential school system.

But for some survivors in Quebec, his address left them disappointed.

"I'm not hearing what I wanted to hear, which is really to ask for forgiveness, to apologize on behalf of the Catholic Church," said Jean-Charles Piétacho, chief of the Council of Innus of Eukanitshit and a residential school survivor.

Headshot of a man standing in front of a colourful background.
Chief Jean-Charles Piétacho said the Pope's apology on Monday didn't meet his expectations. (Marc-Antoine Mageau/Radio-Canada)

Piétacho said he felt the speech was vague and did not specifically acknowledge the actions of the Church as an organization, putting the blame instead on individuals.

"It's like it's only a few Christians who committed evil," he said. "We're once again trivializing the survivors' situation."

As a survivor, he said he still feels a lot of pain from having been taken away in trucks from his family and his community, for more than five years.

He said survivors have been waiting years for actions, and he is hoping that the pontiff will apologize once again when he is in Quebec.

He said he will take some more time to digest Monday's remarks.

"In my heart, in my soul, I'll continue, and it's a step," he said.

A man holds a brick and a folder.
Paul Dixon was sent to the Mohawk Institute Residential School run by Anglican priests in Brantford, Ont. at the age of six. He was later sent to the La Tuque Residential School in Quebec. (Submitted by Paul Dixon)

Paul Dixon, a member of the Cree community of Waswanipi and a residential school survivor, said he has mixed feelings about the apology.

"An apology ain't going to make everything disappear of what happened when I was a child," he said. "It's very hard for us."

Dixon said he hasn't decided yet whether he will go to the Plains of Abraham to listen to the Pope's remarks when he comes to Quebec, but that the words he chooses then will affect how he feels.

He said he would like the Pope to rescind the Doctrine of Discovery, a policy from the 15th century that justified Christian colonial expansion by allowing Europeans to claim Indigenous lands as their own based on the idea that Indigenous people didn't have government, writing or civilization.

Concrete actions needed

Thérèse Niquay, an Atikamekw from Manawan and a survivor of the Pointe-Bleue residential school, said she wasn't hoping for anything in particular from apology.

"I have a heavy heart regarding all that we went through so I didn't have any expectations, but I was still emotional seeing the Pope among Indigenous People like this," she said.

She said she did notice that the Pope quickly removed a headdress that was presented to him by one of the chiefs after his apology.

"He took it off almost right away — that marked me," she said.

Pope Francis was presented a traditional headdress after his remarks, but he had it removed moments later. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

What she really wants to see now is concrete actions to help Indigenous youth who are still suffering from intergenerational trauma. She said they need more resources to help them.

"Our children, our grandchildren, it's them who I think about, and I also think about our parents from whom we stole children, it's all this intergenerational upheaval," she said.

'A process that belongs to survivors'

The regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations for Quebec and Labrador, Ghislain Picard, said the Pope delivered on his commitment last April to travel to Canada and issue an apology to Indigenous Peoples on their land.

He said it's really up to each survivor to decide how they receive that apology and that he expects there will be diverse reactions as to how sincere the pontiff was during his remarks.

"I think it's going to take some time to sink in and for people to eventually say well, I think that's what we expected and now we can move on to the next step," he said.

"But ultimately, it's a process that belongs to survivors."

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools or by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

Mental health counselling and crisis support is also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the Hope for Wellness hotline at 1-855-242-3310 or by online chat at

With files from Sandra Hercegova and Radio-Canada