First Nations Chief Responds to Pope’s Apology: What Was Missing

Chief Jason Louie.  (Photo/Courtesy)

Chief Jason Louie. (Photo/Courtesy)

Almost exactly a year after the band in Lower Kootenay, British Columbia, announced the discovery of 182 unmarked graves near a former Indian residential school, the head of the institution that operated that school apologized Indigenous peoples on Canadian soil.

“I think back to the stories you told,” Pope Francis said Monday in Maskwacis, Alta., addressing thousands of survivors who traveled from across Canada for this historic moment. “…How the children suffered physical, verbal, psychological and spiritual abuse; how they were taken from their homes at a young age and how this indelibly affected the relationships between parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren.

In his apology, Lower Kootenay Band Chief Jason Louie said Pope left out a critical type of child abuse: sexual.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission found that thousands of children were sexually abused by clergy or school staff in residential schools, and that more than 4,000 children died in schools as a result of abuse and neglect .

“The Pope had the opportunity here to say exactly what caused some of this hurt and pain, and he didn’t,” Louie told Native News Online. “There were a lot of key elements in that apology that weren’t there, like the rape of young girls and boys, the torture of young girls and boys, and murder, and not acknowledging the unmarked graves that we find more and more [of] across Canada.

The response to the pope’s apology varies widely from one indigenous community to another. Louie said that although his band was invited to attend the Edmonton speech, he personally decided not to. The pope, for him, represents the people “who tried to kill our people and who did it”.

“I just couldn’t do it,” he said. As the descendant of a residential school survivor, Louie said he was unprepared for the “emotional roller coaster” that listening to the pope’s apology from a distance had caused him.

“I still carry the traumas of my father who went to boarding school,” he said. “There are members who accept the apology. I’m not going to say they’re wrong, but I also want people to see this, to just acknowledge the hurt and pain that we’re all in right now.

This morning, on his second full day in Canada, the Pope held Mass at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, Alberta. At 5 p.m. mountain standard time, he will bless the waters of a lake, Lac Ste. Anne, site of an annual pilgrimage located about 50 miles west of Edmonton.

Indigenous peoples helped bring the Catholic Church to Lac Sainte-Anne, said Tracy Friedel, president of Region 4 of the Métis Nation of Alberta. AlJazeera.

“A lot of times people think missionaries went out and found native people, you know, in an effort to civilize them,” Friedel told Al Jazeera. “But to be honest, our community sought out the Catholic Church and was actually instrumental in bringing the Catholic representatives in the first place and establishing the mission. This [Lac Ste Anne] is considered spiritual by indigenous peoples everywhere.

The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line is available 24 hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience. People can access emotional referral and crisis services by calling the 24-hour National Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419.

About the Author: “Jenna Kunze is a staff reporter who covers Indian health, environment and breaking news for Native News Online. She is also the publication’s senior reporter on stories related to Indian boarding schools and repatriation. Her bylines have appeared in The Arctic Sounder, High Country News, Indian Country Today, Tribal Business News, Smithsonian Magazine, and Anchorage Daily News. In 2020, she was one of 16 U.S. journalists selected by the Pulitzer Center to report on the effects of climate change in the Arctic region of Alaska. To that, she was a senior reporter at the Chilkat Valley News in Haines, Alaska. Kunze is based in New York.


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