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Mid-Island Indigenous leaders hope papal apology just a start in reconciliation

Pope Francis asks for forgiveness for Roman Catholic Church’s abuses and conduct
A sheet covered with handprints affixed to a sign outside St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church in Nanaimo last summer. (Photo submitted)

Central Island Indigenous leaders are hopeful an apology from the Roman Catholic Church’s leader, for abuse by clergy at residential schools, is just a start.

After meeting with Canadian Indigenous representatives this week at Vatican City, Pope Francis asked for forgiveness Friday, April 1, on behalf of himself and Canadian bishops, for abuse and conduct of members. He pledged to travel to Canada, although a date has not yet been determined.

Chief Michael Wyse, of Snuneymuxw First Nation, told the News Bulletin that he had mixed emotions about the apology. It was “a long time coming” and “the first steps in what needs to take place in reconciliation,” he said.

Joy Bremner, Mid-Island Métis Nation president, referred to reconciliation as a “journey” and the visit with the pope a “welcome beginning with the Catholic church.” It was good to have the pope actually meeting survivors to hear personal stories, as it’s one thing to have documents and paperwork, but “the personal impact of hearing that it goes much deeper,” she said.

“As the Indigenous population becomes more comfortable talking and speaking about it, more stories will come out and that is a part of the healing,” said Bremner. “Hearing the truth of what the impacts have been – and it’s not an easy thing to listen to and it is heartbreaking on many levels – we’re also starting to now hear from some of those that have made the journey towards healing.”

She said there’s an “emphasis” across Canada on reconciliation and some positives are coming from that, but more will need to be done.

“Various people as they become more comfortable sharing the truth, other things may come up that need to be dealt with and become a part of the healing journey,” she said.

In a statement, Judith Sayers, Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council president, said the words were a start, but was too long in coming, given the last residential school closed in 1996. She hopes the pope has something more substantial when he travels to Canada.

“The apology would have meant more with concrete actions by the church to address the wrongs and how it could be righted – after all, that is what reconciliation is about,” Sayers said. “The Catholic church is wealthy and could certainly help with money to provide needed services in counselling, cultural healing activities, education, revival of our languages, to name a few.”

Approximately 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families and taken to residential schools in Canada, with more than 60 per cent going to institutions operated by the Catholic church.

– files from Black Press Media and Canadian Press

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