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Opening the door

Tansi Nîtôtemtik,

Screenshot credit - Tanya Talaga, Twitter @TanyaTalaga

Today is a historic day. One that we are relieved to witness. Today, Call to Action 58 – has been fulfilled, in part.

“We call upon the Pope to issue an apology to Survivors, their families, and communities for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children in Catholicrun residential schools. We call for that apology to be similar to the 2010 apology issued to Irish victims of abuse and to occur within one year of the issuing of this Report and to be delivered by the Pope in Canada.” [1]

For the past week, a delegation of Indigenous representatives have been in Vatican City for meetings with Pope Francis. For a week, survivors shared their stories, their experiences, their grief and their trauma with him. And today, he apologized.

“For the deplorable conduct of those members of the Catholic Church, I ask for God’s forgiveness and I want to say to you with all my heart: I am very sorry. And I join my brothers, the Canadian bishops, in asking your pardon. Clearly, the content of the faith cannot be transmitted in a way contrary to the faith itself: Jesus taught us to welcome, love, serve and not judge; it is a frightening thing when, precisely in the name of the faith, counter-witness is rendered to the Gospel.” [2]

In line with the specifics of Call to Action 58, Pope Francis has also committed to come to Canada, hopefully this summer, to offer this apology on the homelands of Indigenous people, to meet their families and to express his sorrow personally, and directly.

Gerald Antoine, NWT Regional Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, accepted the apology as a "gesture of good faith" that the Pope will keep that promise. [3]

These words and this promise, are the culmination of years of work done by Indigenous people to make themselves heard and seen by the Catholic Church. Cassidy Caron, President of the Métis National Council, told reporters today that "we feel heard and we feel listened to,” and that Pope Francis has been “invit[ed] on a pathway forward for truth, healing, reconciliation and justice." [4]

The delegates and the Pope all acknowledged that healing will require concrete actions, not just words. But for so many, the absence of the apology, and the drawn out refusal to give it, was a bar to any progress towards healing and reconciliation.

Natan Obed, President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, was clear that what was offered today was what has been formally asked for. [5] While acknowledging that it is only one piece of a larger puzzle, Obed described the apology as a “heartfelt expression from the Church that was delivered by Pope Francis in an empathetic and caring way,” an expression of sorrow, and a condemnation of the actions of the Church.[6]

We can parse the words of the apology and ask, as one reporter did, if that’s what the Pope really said – did he apologize for the role of the Church in Residential Schools, or just the “conduct of those members of the Catholic Church”? [7] But what struck me, a Catholic settler, was the way the Pope, and the Bishops at the press conference, spoke about colonization, about genocide, about evil, about shame, about humility.

While these are all accurate ways to describe what happened and what continues to happen, for many settlers, these words are uncomfortable, taboo even, or maybe derided as the vocabulary of ‘the woke left.’ It is monumental to hear Church leaders acknowledge that “many forms of political, ideological and economic colonization still exist in the world,” and “colonial mentality remains widespread" requiring us all to “help each other, together, to overcome it". [8]

Today, Indigenous and settler people alike were offered something we all needed: an open door to truth, justice, reconciliation and healing, from one of the parties most responsible for the fundamental crime committed on this land. The apology is not perfect. It’s not complete. But it has - genuinely - begun.

What an exceptional moment to come at the end of a year that we’ve spent pondering the need for truth, before reconciliation.

Until next time,

Amy and Team ReconciliACTION


[1] Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future: Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (Ottawa, Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015) at 223.

[2] “Full text of Pope Francis’s apology for residential schools” (1 April 2022), online: The Globe and Mail <,t%20come%20in%20the%20winter!> [“Apology”].

[3] Global News, “Indigenous representatives speak after Pope apologizes for residential schools” (1 April 2022) at 00h:40m:41s, online (video): YouTube

[4] Ibid at 00h:35m:07s.

[5] Ibid at 00h:31m:46s.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid at 01h:09m:34s.

[8] “Apology,” supra note 2.

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