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    Sandy Silver interview April 8, 2022 CHONfm

Pope Francis apologizes for “cultural genocide” in the residential school system

The apology comes on the last day of meetings at the Vatican between the Pope and Indigenous delegates from Canada.

Members of the Assembly of First Nations perform in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, Thursday, March 31, 2022 (photo by the Canadian Press/AP-Alessandra Tarantino).

Pope Francis has apologized for the Catholic Church’s role in the residential school system.


Indigenous delegates who have been at the Vatican all week in meetings with the Pope said they have been deeply moved by the apology.


Natan Obed, president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, was in the room when the Pope delivered his remarks. He said this has been a long time coming.


“Behind the cover ups, behind the indifference over a hundred years, behind the lies, behind the lack of justice, this Pope, Pope Francis decided to go right through it and decided to speak words that First Nations, Inuit, and Métis have been longing to hear for decades,” said Obed.


Pope Francis asked for God’s forgiveness for the deplorable conduct of members of the Catholic Church, saying he felt shame and sorrow that Catholics, particularly those in charge of education, caused such significant harm.


Yukoner at the Vatican

Adeline Webber (left) receives the Lifetime Achievement Award at the AFN Leadership Awards in 2019 (CHONfm file photo).

Adeline Webber of the Kukhhiittan Clan of the Teslin Tlingit Nation is representing the Yukon at the Vatican.


Webber is a survivor of the Whitehorse Indian Baptist Mission School. She went there at the age of five, one month after her father passed away in 1952. She left in 1960 when the school closed down. Her mother lived in Whitehorse but could only visit on Wednesdays to help with mending. Sometimes Webber was not allowed to see her mom on weekends.


“Our lives were controlled by the school,” Webber told CHONfm in December as she prepared for the trip. The delegation was originally set to meet with the Pope then but things were rescheduled when cases of COVID-19 surged.


“Everything was very different than being in your own loving home,” she added.


“Indigenous languages in Canada and the culture were disrespected and condemned and in fact, outlawed,” Webber continued.


The residential school system spilt up Webber’s family. One of her brothers was sent to the Choutla School in Carcross where he died at five years old. Webber now hopes to find him as she chairs the Choutla Working Group, a group that plans to search for potential remains at the school site.


Webber’s other brother was taken to the residential school in Grouard, Alberta. She finally connected with him when he returned home at 16.


“He came back and he struggled for years but then he found some peace anyway, and became a really upstanding citizen in the Teslin community. In fact, before he died a couple of years ago, he was our clan leader and he supplied us with moose meat all the time, and fish,” said Webber.


“Mom always talked about Joe and Albert. We kind of just thought it was the same person, but really it was two different brothers,” she continued.


Cultural genocide

From left, Gerald Antoine, First Nations NWT Regional Chief, Natan Obed, President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami delegation, and Cassidy Caron, President of the Metis community, walk in St. Peter’s Square, at the Vatican, after their meeting with Pope Francis, Friday, April 1, 2022 (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino).

Chief Gerald Antoine of the Dene Nation in the Northwest Territories is the Assembly of First Nations delegation lead. He said that Pope Francis recognized the cultural genocide that was inflicted on Indigenous children, calling today a first step on the path of reconciliation.


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today wouldn’t have happened without the bravery and determination of residential school survivors who journeyed to the Vatican to tell their truths and painful memories.


This week the group of delegates visited the Roman Catholic Church’s ethnological museum, which includes some of the Vatican’s collection of Indigenous artifacts. The group is now hoping to have the art returned to Canada but negotiations could take months or even years.


The Pope has also promised to visit Canada around the Feast of St. Anna, which falls on July 26th.


This article was put together with files from the Canadian Press.


Published April 1, 2022.

Written by: Dylan MacNeil

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