At the June Social Justice Committee meeting, a parishioner talked with the group about the discovery of mass graves at former residential schools for indigenous children in Canada. With the 160 more graves discovered on Penelakut Island, the total number of graves identified in Canada since early June has risen to at least 1300. Indigenous communities across Canada know that the sites of former residential schools contain many more graves of their missing children that are yet to be identified. Canada had boarding schools for more than 160 years with upwards of 150,000 children.
Residential schools were designed to serve the American and Canadian governments’ racist policies to assimilate Indigenous children into their nations’ White, Christian, and English-speaking cultures. Indigenous children were often sent to these schools against the will of their families. They were stripped of their languages and cultures. The Roman Catholic church was responsible for the operations of up to 70% of Canada’s residential schools. The U.S. may have had more than 350 U.S. Indian boarding schools.
The Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued its final report in 2015. One of the calls to action listed in the report was for the Vatican to issue a Papal apology within one year. It has been six years since this report was issued. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked Pope Francis to issue this apology during a visit to the Vatican in 2017. In June, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops announced that Pope Francis will meet with a delegation of Indigenous Elders, knowledge keepers, and political leaders in December. But, thus far, the Vatican has refused to apologize.
Many Indigenous people have been devout Catholics since long before the founding of either the United States, Canada, or the system of residential schools. As part of St. Elizabeth’s commitment to social justice, we must acknowledge how the Catholic Church has failed our sisters, brothers, and siblings who identify as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color—here in Richmond and elsewhere. We can support Indigenous communities who have been suffering the intergenerational trauma of residential schools and the recent discoveries of their missing children by educating ourselves and calling on our Church leaders to use their influence to encourage Pope Francis to issue a Papal apology. This story is evolving with more discoveries and statements from the U.S. and Canadian governments. The articles below are an introduction to this issue.
“We won’t forget about the children,” Louellyn White, associate professor of Indigenous Studies at Concordia University in Montreal said. “There are more. We have to keep looking.”
Indian Boarding Schools in the US:
Article by Mary Annette Pember (citizen of the Red Cliff Band of Wisconsin Ojibwe)
The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition:
Commentary from National Catholic Reporter: