Canadian Bishops Formally Apologize to Indigenous People

In this year, when Truth and Reconciliation with Indigenous people took on new and urgent importance, there’s been one organization that has hedged on admitting any complicity with the horrors visited on residential school students. That took a change in direction on Friday as the Catholic Bishops of Canada released a statement formally apologizing to Canada’s Indigenous people, even as they’re still waiting to hear from the Pope himself.

“We also sorrowfully acknowledge the historical and ongoing trauma and the legacy of suffering and challenges faced by Indigenous Peoples that continue to this day,” the statement read. “Along with those Catholic entities which were directly involved in the operation of the schools and which have already offered their own heartfelt apologies, we, the Catholic Bishops of Canada, express our profound remorse and apologize unequivocally.”

The statement said that the Bishops are “fully committed to the process of healing and reconciliation” with different initiatives underway across the country, including new fundraising efforts in each region to support those initiatives. They also noted that Pope Francis will be meeting with a delegation from Canada’s First Nations in the Vatican on December 21.

“We commit ourselves to continue accompanying you, the First Nations, Métis and Inuit Peoples of this land,” the statement added. “Standing in respect of your resiliency, strength and wisdom, we look forward to listening to and learning from you as we walk in solidarity.”

The new statement from the whole conference of Bishops goes further than a statement released in June by Douglas Crosby, Bishop of the Hamilton Diocese, which includes the Guelph area.

“This tragic and painful part of our history as a nation and as a Church causes us to grieve with the families of these children and feel sorrow and deep shame for our participation in the policies which created the Residential Schools,” Bishop Crosby wrote. “The work of healing and reconciliation is, and must be, ongoing.”

The Bishops’ apology comes less than a week in advance of the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, but it was still lacking for Canada’s Indigenous leaders.

“On one hand, their unequivocal apology is welcomed,” said Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald in a statement. “However, I am disappointed that the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops did not take the long overdue step of passing a motion/resolution to formally invite the Pope to Canada to offer his apology to First Nations and Indigenous Survivors and intergenerational trauma survivors here on Turtle Island.”

Archibald also noted the recent CBC News report that the Catholic Church has failed to pay Canada’s Indigenous people millions of dollars required in the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement of 2005 that was reached with not only the Catholic Church, but the Anglican, United and Presbyterian churches as well. The Catholic Church is the only one not to fulfil their obligations to the agreement.

“The fact remains that the church raised less than 15 per cent of the $25 million that it promised in 2006 as part of the IRS settlement,” Archibald added. “The words of the apology speak to a commitment by the Catholic Church to the healing path forward with First Nations and Indigenous peoples. Only time will tell if concrete actions will follow the words of contrition by the Bishops.”

In the meantime, plans are moving ahead locally to mark the first annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. At city council on Monday night, Mayor Cam Guthrie will ask his colleagues to pass a resolution for Municipal Recognition of September 30 as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, noting the 94 calls to calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015, and the discovery of unmarked graves on former residential school properties.

The University of Guelph announced Friday that they will be holding a number of events including a ceremony hosted by the Department of Integrative Biology’s Indigenous Belonging and Connections Committee outside the Summerlee Science Complex at 10 am, and a ceremony on Johnston Green at noon with speeches from Elders Dan and Mary Lou Smoke. Mary Lou is Ojibway Nation, from Batchawana, on Lake Superior, and Dan is Seneca Nation from the Six Nations Grand River Territory. Johnston Hall itself will be lit in orange all next week.

The City of Guelph and Guelph Museums have announced events for next week’s National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, and the month-long celebration of Culture Days. Towards Truth will be having a speakers event takes place on Monday September 27 at the River Run Centre and broadcast live online, and a film festival will take place from Thursday September 30 to Sunday October 3 at the Bookshelf Cinema.

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