Calls for Pope to apologize for residential schools persist after Vancouver bishop’s statement

Six days after the world learned the bodies of 215 Indigenous children were found at a Kamloops residential school, Vancouver’s Archbishop is apologizing. Ria Renouf reports it was part of a multi-tweet thread posted Wednesday.


Emotional support or assistance for those who are affected by the residential school system can be found at Indian Residential School Survivors Society toll-free 1 (800) 721-0066 or 24 hr Crisis Line 1 (866) 925-4419.

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — An Indigenous faith leader says an apology from Vancouver’s archbishop after the remains of 215 children were found on the site of a residential school in Kamloops is a good first step — but it’s not the apology survivors, their families, and communities have been waiting for.

The apology from Archbishop J. Michael Miller was issued six days after the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation announced the discovery of the children’s remains, buried in unmarked graves, on the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School which opened under Roman Catholic administration in 1890 and operated until 1969. In the immediate aftermath of the discovery, Miller said he was “filled with deep sadness” and the news out of Kamloops “reminds us of our ongoing need to bring to light every tragic situation that occurred in residential schools run by the Church.”

RELATED: Vancouver archbishop apologizes for Catholic Church’s role in residential schools

Wednesday’s statement says the Roman Catholic Church was “unquestionably wrong” for implementing a colonialist government policy.

“I am writing to express my deep apology and profound condolences to the families and communities that have been devastated by this horrific news,” he wrote. Miller also said the diocese will share all relevant records, and offered “technological and professional support to help the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc and other affected Nations.”

Declining an interview, a spokesperson for Miller said, “you might find it helpful to note the Archbishop has apologized twice before – in 2013 and in 2015.”

‘What has been asked for by the survivors is for the apology to come from the Pope’

Rev. Dr. Carmen Lansdowne is the executive director at First United Church Ministry Society on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and a member of the Heiltsuk First Nation.

“I do applaud Archbishop Miller’s statement that he released today,” she says.

“I trust that he will be working with a Conference of Catholic Bishops in Canada to work towards a formal apology from the Pope and the Vatican. That’s really what’s requested by survivors, and that is the call to action from the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The fact that we have this apology issued by Archbishop Miller here in the Lower Mainland is hopeful to me that there are allies within that conference who will be working towards having the Pope come to Canada.”

One of the 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015 was for the pope to apologize for the role of the Church in a system that saw 150,000 First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children taken from their families and confined in conditions that constituted cultural genocide.

“We call upon the Pope to issue an apology to Survivors, their families, and communities for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children in Catholic-run residential schools,” it reads.

Lansdowne says there have been apologies from individual bishops, religious orders, and dioceses, but a formal apology from the leader of the church is what has been asked for and thus far denied.

“What has been asked for by the survivors is for the apology to come from the Pope similar to other global apologies that the Vatican has made in the past. They feel it needs to come from the pope as a formal apology,” she says.

“There’s been an invitation for the prime minister for the Pope to come to Canada to make that apology, and so far there hasn’t been a willingness or an ability to do that.”

In 2018, Pope Francis said he would not be making an apology despite a formal request from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and pleas from survivors and their families. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops said that while the Pope acknowledged the commission’s findings and expressed regret for past wrongs, he “felt he could not personally respond.”

The Pontiff has not yet made any statement on the horrific discovery in Kamloops.

RELATED: Pope silent, Catholic bishops ‘shocked’ after children’s remains found in Kamloops

Lansdowne says it’s important that calls for justice and accountability are Indigenous-led and survivor-centric.

“We really need to keep turning to those calls to action because there was so much work and effort to build consensus among the survivors and among the commissioners about what they were asking for. We need to make sure those apologies are done in a way that meets what was asked for from the survivors of the residential schools,” she says.

“Let indigenous people lead the conversation because it brings up a tremendous amount of grief, not just grief about the lost children but also grief that for so long we’ve had to have these arguments. There are a lot of non-Indigenous people who owe Indigenous people apologies for saying, No, there couldn’t possibly be unmarked graves, that’s not how we do things in Canada.’ I think this discovery proves that our people are not crazy, they knew that their families were missing, they knew there were children sent to residential school that never came home, that were never accounted for.”

‘Sometimes the reaction is that it is perhaps too late’

Dr. Tricia Logan, a Métis scholar and head of research and engagement at UBC’s Residential School History and Dialogue Centre, says apologies like Miller’s can be difficult to hear for survivors and communities.

“I think there’s always mixed reactions,” she says.

“Sometimes the reaction is that it is perhaps too late. For others who shared their stories and who feel that their histories have been hidden or under-emphasized or forgotten or ignored — the acknowledgment that their stories have been heard is significant.”

She also points out that calls for accountability from the Church have echoed for years.

“Before, during, and after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission — Indigenous leaders have approached the Catholic Church, and dioceses here in Canada. They have approached the Vatican and visited the Vatican in search of information, in search for an apology and also an acknowledgment from the Catholic Church,” she says.

“Because the schools were operated by both Protestant and Catholic churches, and different religious orders here in Canada, different churches have provided different levels of apology and different levels of redress. It varies a great deal.”

Wednesday’s apology from Miller came after the federal government renewed its demand for an apology from the Pope, with Crown Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett saying Catholics should put pressure on the church to do what is right.

This comes amid growing calls for every former residential school site to be searched across Canada. The United Nations Human Rights Commission is among those urging Canada to do so promptly and exhaustively.

With files from Denise Wong, Bethlehem Mariam, and OMNI TV

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