Pope's apology prompts calls for action from Indigenous people in southwestern Ontario

The chief of a First Nation in southwestern Ontario says he was happy to hear Pope Francis apologize for the actions of some members of the Catholic Church in Canada's residential school system, but would like to see the church follow up with action.

Pope Francis issued apology for actions of some in Canada's residential school system on Friday

Kettle and Stony Point First Nation Chief Jason Henry says he wants to see action come out of Pope Francis's apology Friday for the role some members of the Catholic Church played in Canada's residential school system. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

The chief of a First Nation in southwestern Ontario says he was happy to hear Pope Francis apologize for the actions of some members of the Catholic Church in Canada's residential school system, but would like to see the church follow up with action.

"Apologies can be hollow if they're only words," said Chief Jason Henry of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation, located on the shore of Lake Huron, northeast of Sarnia. "Actions do speak louder than words, so that's what I'm hoping for."

The Pope issued the apology on Friday at the Vatican, following a week of meetings with First Nations, Inuit and Métis delegations.

Henry said he'd now like to see the Catholic Church help finance the reinstatement of Indigenous languages, identity, culture, theology and world views.

"It cannot just be, 'I'm sorry, it's too bad some of us did that,'" Henry said. "It needs to be, 'You know what? We made money off of taking your land, from taking your resources. And as a result of that, we've left too many of you without your true identity. We're going to make sure that you can get that back.'"

In the apology, the Pope said he felt "sorrow and shame" for the actions of some Catholics involved in the residential school system.

"For the deplorable conduct of these members of the Catholic Church, I ask for God's forgiveness and I want to say to you with all my heart, I am very sorry," Francis said. "And I join my brothers, the Canadian bishops, in asking your pardon."

Esentsei Staats-Pangowish of Six Nations of the Grand River said she was moved by the Pope's words.

Esentsei Staats-Pangowish of Six Nations of the Grand River says she was moved by the Pope's apology. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

"I was rather surprised at how my physical body reacted to it," she said. "I got goose bumps. I started to shake. And I think that really talks to the intergenerational trauma.

"I have family members on both sides who have attended a residential school, and so it moved me when I heard him talk about shame and evil, and the acknowledgment about our seven generations and us caring for the land," Staats-Pangowish said. "So it moved me that it seemed like those concepts he really took in from the delegates that were there."

She also, however, said she'd like to see the Pope's words followed by action.

"What does this apology really impact, and what role will it play in the change of the treatment and ongoing relationship with Indigenous people on this territory?" she said. "We've got to figure out what's going to happen next in this relationship."

Indigenous educator Biindigaygizhig Daniel Deleary of Walpole Island First Nation said Indigenous people are still in "various stages of healing" from the residential school system.

"What I teach my children, we have to understand and be conscious and be aware of where other Indigenous people are coming from, that they haven't come to a certain place of healing it, a certain place of recognition of their cultural identity or cultural self," he said on CBC Radio's Afternoon Drive on Friday. "And so so for many of them, this means this means a great deal."

Deleary noted that the delegations gave the Pope cultural gifts during their visit to the Vatican.

Today, Pope Francis gave an apology to Indigenous delegates in Rome for abuses at residential schools. Guest host Allison Devereaux speaks to local Indigenous educator Biindigaygizhig Daniel Deleary, of Walpole Island First Nation, for his thoughts.

"We really have to analyze and think about why is it that we do that," he said. "I think there's recognition ... that these treaties were signed in this area, and many of those treaties were not done in the greatest of terms."

"We continue to struggle in our communities for economic development, housing," Deleary said. "Water issues are still happening here in southwestern Ontario. When you have a city of London with 400,000 people, and just outside the city, two communities, your two neighbouring communities, two neighbouring First Nations, are on boil water advisories."

"How is it OK that we continue to allow our neighbours to have bad drinking water?" 


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.