By Lisa Zengarini
Following last week’s formal statement of apology to indigenous communities who suffered in “Indian Residential Schools”, Canada's bishops have announced a $30 million national financial pledge to support healing and reconciliation initiatives. Funds will be allocated over a period of up to five years and parishes across Canada are encouraged to participate and amplify the effort, a press release issued on Monday explained.
Making a difference to those who experience ongoing trauma
The newly elected President of the Canadian bishops’ conference (CCCB), Bishop Raymond Poisson, hopes that these efforts will support meaningful projects across Canada and make a significant difference to those who experience ongoing trauma caused by the residential school system: “When the Bishops of Canada came together in Plenary last week, there was universal consensus that Catholic entities needed to do more in a tangible way to address the suffering experienced in Canada’s residential schools”, he said in the statement. “Comprised of local diocesan initiatives, this effort will help support programs and initiatives dedicated to improving the lives of residential school survivors and their communities, ensuring resources needed to assist in the path of healing”.
Working in consultation with local First Nations, Metis, and Inuit populations
Funding for projects will be determined in consultation with First Nations, Metis, and Inuit populations in each region. “The Bishops of Canada have been guided by the principle that we should not speak about Indigenous People without speaking with them. To that end, the ongoing conversations with local leadership will be instrumental in discerning the programs that are most deserving of support”, explained Bishop William McGrattan, vice president of the CCCB. “There is no single step that can eliminate the pain felt by residential school survivors, but by listening, seeking relationships, and working collaboratively where we are able, we hope to learn how to walk together in a new path of hope”, he added.
The Canadian Government's public apology
Residential schools were compulsory boarding schools funded by the Canadian government and run by religious authorities during the 19th and 20th centuries with the aim of assimilating indigenous youth into Euro-Canadian culture. However, the schools disrupted lives and communities; and many children suffered neglect and abuse, causing long-term problems among Indigenous peoples. Since the last residential school closed in 1996, former students have demanded recognition and compensation, resulting in the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement in 2007 and a formal public apology by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2008.
In a report published in 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC), after a seven-year inquiry, concluded that at least 4,100 children died while attending these schools, many of them due to abuse, negligence, and disease. In total, an estimated 150,000 First Nation, Inuit, and Métis children attended these schools. The Commission described the system as a "cultural genocide".
The discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves and remains on the grounds of a number of former Catholic-run residential schools earlier this summer has drawn new public attention to this tragedy.
The Statement of Apology of the Catholic Bishops of Canada
In their statement of apology published on September 24 during their Autumn Plenary Assembly, Canadian bishops acknowledged that “grave abuses” had been
committed by some in the Catholic community, and expressed their “profound remorse”, apologizing “unequivocally.” They also confirmed that Pope Francis will meet a delegation of survivors and Indigenous people in the Vatican in December. In early June Pope Francis joined with the bishops in “expressing closeness” to "traumatized Canadians" over the discovery of the remains of an estimated 215 children buried on the grounds of a former Catholic-run residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia.