Pope Francis’ historic apology for residential schools drew strong criticism from indigenous spokespeople in Montreal, with a group of Mohawk women even calling for the cross at Mount Royal to be removed as an act of contrition.
On Wednesday, two days after apologizing in Edmonton to Indigenous Peoples for the role the Roman Catholic Church played in Canada’s residential school system, the pontiff expressed his “deep shame and pain” and asked forgiveness for “the evil committed by so many Christians” during a speech in Quebec City. He has described the trip to Canada as his “penitential” trip.
Although he called the forced cultural assimilation of First Nations children a “deplorable evil” and a “disastrous mistake,” Pope Francis has not mentioned sexual abuse in his remarks since landing in Canada. Nor has he mentioned the so-called Doctrine of Discovery, a centuries-old Vatican decree that countries like Canada used to justify the colonization of indigenous lands.
“If everyone thought that was a solution, that apology, everyone would have been there,” Kwetiio, a Kahnawake resident and spokesperson for a group known as the Mohawk Mothers, told reporters Wednesday at Mount Royal Park. There’s no way you can drag me in there. That’s what I think about that apology. It is empty.”
Added Karakwine, a Kanesatake resident whose mother survived for a time in a residential school: “I’m not impressed. It doesn’t seem sincere. There were many words but nothing concrete.
It is estimated that 150,000 indigenous children were forced to attend residential schools, more than 60 percent of which were run by the Catholic Church.
Last year, the remains of more than 1,000 children, some as young as three, were found buried on the sites of three former residential schools.
Simply apologizing will not be enough to heal the wounds created by the Catholic Church’s mistreatment of First Nations families and communities, said Kahentinetha, another Kahnawake resident who spoke at the news conference.
“I don’t know how anyone can apologize for what they did, which is the genocide of our people, the eradication of our languages, the murder of our children, the experimentations, all of that to take the land away from us,” he said. “We don’t have that concept in our culture. You can’t say you’re sorry.
If Pope Francis is serious about doing things right, he should start by repealing the Doctrine of Discovery, the Mohawk women said.
“The papal bulls that were created that said we were not human, that we were inhuman and just pagan, and that all this land should be taken, that should be rescinded,” Kwetiio said. “You have to undo it. Action is everything. Words are only words”.
On the local front, Kwetiio and Kahentinetha said they want Montreal to remove the cross on Mount Royal because of what it symbolizes.
“The cross reminds us of the horrors we have lived through and survived,” Kahentinetha said. “It should be shot down. It hurts us every time we see it because we know what happened.”
Kahentinetha and her colleagues have recently gone to court in a bid to block the start of excavation work near the former Royal Victoria Hospital at McGill University due to the possibility that the site may contain unmarked graves of indigenous children.
“I think they are trying to cover up all the graves and the atrocities that were committed. Canadians need to know about this,” Kahentinetha said. “We’re telling McGill to open his files and let us see everything.”
As of 8:45 p.m. Wednesday night, spokespeople for McGill had not responded to an email request for comment for this story.
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