Pope Francis apologizes to Indigenous delegates for “deplorable” abuse suffered in residential schools

On Apr. 1, Pope Francis apologized to Indigenous delegates for the “deplorable” abuse Indigenous people suffered in residential schools from the Catholic church. 

The apology followed a week of meetings with First Nations, Metis, and Inuit delegates who traveled from Canada to the Vatican.

Delegates brought traditional regalia and gifts to the Vatican for the Pope. One of the gifts was a traditional cradleboard, brought by Members of Canada’s Assembly of First Nations. The cradleboard symbolized the children and survivors of residential schools and was brought back to Canada when the delegates returned home.

Residential school survivor Bud Maple wants to see a more meaningful and accessible approach to reconciliation between the Catholic Church and Indigenous people in Canada.

“The apology, way over there in a different part of the country, you got a handful or a couple of handfuls of natives together and you’re seeing an apology together to them,” Maple said. “But what about the other million or people who can come to Canada or travel?”

Breanne Kequahtooway, from Zagime Anishinabek First Nation, is the second generation in her family to not attend residential school. She sees the intergenerational impacts within her family and said that the Pope’s apology isn’t enough.

“You can’t apologize about genocide and not do anything to strengthen the culture,” said Kequahtooway.
“Types of change that would be more effective would be more support towards the Indigenous people that are dealing with their traumas to this day.”

Approximately 150,000 children attended residential schools from the time they opened in the 1830s to the closing of the last Roman Catholic-operated school in 1998 in Lebret, Saskatchewan.

In May 2021, 221 children’s remains were found at the Kamloops Indian Residential School. The discovery of these remains encouraged the ground searches of other residential schools across Canada. 

After the Kamloops discovery, searches began at many other residential schools throughout Canada. To date, over 5000 bodies have been discovered. The discoveries have ignited a new wave of hurt, healing, and accountability within Canadian communities.


Angela Redman, a residential school and day school survivor, took the Pope’s apology at face value.

“The Pope’s apology doesn’t mean nothing to me, he could come over here if he wants, but it’s still not gonna make a difference,” Redman said. “Until he admits that the Catholic Church is the one responsible.”

Reconciliation is not a linear process. Generations of Indigenous people and communities have been abused and traumatized through the process of colonization and assimilation. Active, true reconciliation needs action.

“I think survivors could move forward if they see more change done, more awareness of the topic,” Kequahtooway said. “Also support groups that have people sharing their stories and moving forward together.”


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