Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Chief Phil Fontaine and AFN delegation at the Vatican - Pope expresses sorrow over residential school abuses

Papal visit results in apology - expression of sorrow over deplorable treatment of First Nations children in Canadian Residential Schools assimilation program:

Chief Phil Fontaine of the Assembly of First Nations in Canada and a delegation visited Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican today along with the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, a delegation of missionary congregations involved in the residential schools and Archbishop Weisgerber, President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. Announced April 15th by the AFN, Chief Fontaine had said at that time-

...the Assembly of First Nations has received an invitation to meet with His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, It is my fervent hope that this Papal Audience will result in a statement from Pope Benedict XVI to all the survivors of the Indian Residential Schools for the role that the Catholic Church played in the administration and operation of the schools and the harms these schools inflicted on our people. This will greatly assist the task of healing and reconciliation for survivors, Catholics and all Canadians.
The Pope did not disappoint, although stopped short of issuing what some refer to as a formal apology. He did express sorrow and describe the abuses as deplorable and further stated that acts of abuse cannot be tolerated in society". The meeting today was private and no media camera's or recorders were allowed. Statements were issued both by Vatican representatives and the Assembly of First nations. Chief Fontaine expressed satisfaction with the Pontiff's apologies. Following the meeting, Fontaine, who is also a residential school survivor, called the Pope's words a "very significant statement." While he said it did not amount to an official apology, Fontaine told CBC News he hoped the expression of regret would "close the book" on the issue of apologies for residential school survivors.


About 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and M├ętis children were taken from their families to attend the schools from as early as the 19th century to 1996. The Catholic Church administered three-quarters of residential schools across Canada and abuse was suffered by many of the 90,000 former students still alive. Other Christian denominations implicated in abuse at residential schools have already apologized — the Anglican Church in 1993, the Presbyterian Church in 1994 and the United Church in 1998. Prime Minister Stephen Harper also offered a televised apology on behalf of the government of Canada in the House of Commons last year. [ Sources - Assembly of First Nations AFN website, The Vatican, and CBC News ]

In addition, over at our sister blog, The MissionLog, there are several articles on the conditions faced by First Nations peoples in Canada - For example, although First Nations people are only 2% of the population, more than 25% of the street homeless in major cities are native and close to 50% of prison inmates. Apologies and reparations aside, there is still a huge challenge to the whole country and all Canadians.
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