Catholic Bishops of Canada apologize to Indigenous Peoples for role in residential schools

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) – The national assembly of bishops is “unequivocally” apologizing for the suffering Indigenous Peoples experienced in Canada’s Indian residential schools, taking responsibility for the role members of the Catholic Church played in the system and the generations of harm it’s caused.

“We acknowledge the grave abuses that were committed by some members of our Catholic community; physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, cultural, and sexual,” reads a statement from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) on Friday.

“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. 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 CCCB says it is “fully committed” to healing and reconciliation, pledging to fundraise across Canada to support that.

“We invite the Indigenous Peoples to journey with us into a new era of reconciliation, helping us in each of our dioceses across the country to prioritize initiatives of healing, to listen to the experience of Indigenous Peoples, especially to the survivors of Indian Residential Schools, and to educate our clergy, consecrated men and women, and lay faithful, on Indigenous cultures and spirituality.”

It also promises to provide documentation and records “that will assist in the memorialization of those buried in unmarked graves.”

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Friday’s statement came less than a week before Canada’s first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a federal statutory holiday to remember and honour the lost children and survivors of residential schools, their families, and communities.

Back in June, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops faced criticism online for saying, “The Catholic Church as a whole in Canada was not associated with the Residential Schools, nor was the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.”

That statement came on the heels of the prime minister demanding the Vatican apologize and the Catholic Church release its documents on residential schools.

Related video: Pressure grows to release residential school records

One of the 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission 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.

More then 1,000 unmarked graves have been found at the sites of several former residential schools across Canada, widely believed to be those of children.

In May, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation confirmed, using ground-penetrating radar, that the remains of 215 children — some as young as three years old — had been found. The search of the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, which was once the largest in Canada’s residential school system, renewed calls for all sites to be searched across the country.

Less than a month later, the Cowessess First Nation confirmed 751 unmarked graves were uncovered on the grounds of the former Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan. Later in June, the Lower Kootenay Band said a search using ground-penetrating radar found 182 human remains in unmarked graves near Cranbrook, close to where the Kootenay Indian Residential School once stood. Soon after that, the Penelakut Tribe confirmed more than 160 unmarked, undocumented graves on their territory at the site of the Kuper Island Indian Residential School.

The news has sparked national outrage and grief, and has led to mounting calls for the federal government and church to investigate more potential school burial sites.

With files from Lisa Steacy

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