Pope Francis apologizes to Indigenous delegates for 'deplorable' abuses at residential schools
First Nations, Inuit and Métis conclude historic week of meetings
WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
Pope Francis has apologized for the conduct of some members of the Roman Catholic Church in Canada's residential school system, following a week of talks with First Nations, Inuit and Métis delegations.
The delegates had gathered for a final and public audience with the Pope at the Vatican on Friday as Francis spoke of feeling "sorrow and shame" for the conduct of those who ran the schools.
"I also feel shame ... sorrow and shame for the role that a number of Catholics, particularly those with educational responsibilities, have had in all these things that wounded you, and the abuses you suffered and the lack of respect shown for your identity, your culture and even your spiritual values," he said.
"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. And I join my brothers, the Canadian bishops, in asking your pardon."
WATCH | Pope Francis apologizes to Indigenous delegates for 'deplorable' abuses at residential schools
Francis also said he hoped to visit Canada "in the days" around the church's Feast of St. Anne, which falls on July 26.
Dene National Chief Gerald Antoine, one of the lead delegates, compared hearing the apology to the experience of walking through the snow and seeing fresh moose tracks.
"That is the feeling that I have, because there is a possibility," he said moments after the apology.
"Today is a day that we've been waiting for and certainly one that will be uplifted in our history."
- Read Pope Francis's full remarks, apology for abuses by some Catholic Church members in residential schools
Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, said survivors and their families will all have different perspectives on the apology.
"Today we have a piece of the puzzle," he said. "We have a heartfelt expression from the church that was delivered by Pope Francis in an empathetic and caring way."
The apology comes at the end of a week of private separate meetings between the First Nations, Inuit and Métis delegations and the Pope about the Roman Catholic Church's role in Canada's residential school system.
PHOTO GALLERY: An emotional day at the Vatican
The Inuit delegation had also been pushing for the church to intervene in the case of fugitive Oblate priest wanted in Canada for sex crimes, and the First Nation delegates also urged the Pope to revoke centuries-old papal decrees used to justify the seizure of Indigenous land in the Americas by colonial powers.
Indigenous representatives have also been pushing the church to fulfil its compensation promises to residential school survivors and return Indigenous cultural artifacts.
Watch: Former Assembly of First Nations national chief Phil Fontaine on Pope Francis's apology
More than 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend residential schools between the 1880s and 1996, and more than 60 per cent of the schools were run by the Catholic Church.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he looks forward to the Pope's visit. He called the apology a step forward "in acknowledging the truth of our past."
"Today's apology will resurface strong emotions of hurt and trauma for many," he said in a media statement.
"We cannot separate the legacy of the residential school system from the institutions that created, maintained, and operated it, including the Government of Canada and the Catholic Church."
'Now the hard work starts' — former AFN chief
Antoine said Indigenous leaders should take part in planning the Pope's visit.
"We seek to hear his words. They also seek the words of apology at home," he said.
Former chief of the Assembly of First Nations Phil Fontaine said the apology is not the end of "this long, tragic story about residential schools."
"Now the hard work starts," he told The Current's Matt Galloway.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission — which from 2008 to 2015 examined the record of Canada's residential school system — called for a papal apology as part of its 94 calls to action. The commission also urged all religious and faith groups to repudiate concepts used to justify European sovereignty over Indigenous lands and people.
Watch: Indigenous delegates react to Pope Francis's apology for 'deplorable' abuses at residential schools:
Colleen Jacob, the former chief of Xaxli'p First Nation in British Columbia, wrote about her experience attending residential school in a letter to the Pope delivered during his private meeting this week with Assembly of First Nations delegates.
Jacob said she can still remember vividly the bus picking her up for the first time in 1974, when she was just seven years old.
She said she was dropped off and separated from her big brother.
"It was a big shock to me because back home I used to follow him everywhere," Jacob said. "I would cry when he wouldn't take me."
The Pope has issued other apologies in recent years. He travelled to Bolivia in 2015, where he asked for forgiveness for the church's crimes against Indigenous people during Latin America's colonial era. On a trip to Ireland in 2018, he offered a sweeping apology for the crimes of the Catholic Church in Ireland, saying church officials frequently failed to respond with compassion to the many abuses children and women suffered over the years.
The Anglican, Presbyterian and United Churches have apologized already for their roles in Canada's residential school system.
WATCH | Pope's apology long overdue, fell short, Tanya Talaga says
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.