Amnesty International expresses respect and care to all residential and day school survivors, and to their families, communities, and Nations in the wake of this week’s Papal visit. On July 25, Pope Francis (Jorge Mario Bergoglio) offered a long-overdue apology to survivors. The Pope’s words and visit to Canada raise strong emotions and traumas for many people. They will be heard and received differently by those with lived experiences. As a human rights organization, our thoughts are with the many children who never made it home and their families who still grieve for them.
We acknowledge that this is a historic moment for many Indigenous peoples, including Indigenous Catholics, for whom the visit and apology is an important part of their healing. It is up to them as individuals and communities to determine whether they accept it and to chart the way forward in the weeks and months ahead.
As a number of people have said, including Murray Sinclair, Cindy Blackstock, the Keepers of the Water, Ellen Gabriel and others, an apology alone is not enough; it is an empty gesture unless it is accompanied by real actions, transparency, accountability and redress.
Settlers may use this time to reflect on and support the remarkable work Indigenous peoples and communities are doing in their search for truth and justice to gather and analyze evidence, support survivors, and lobby nationally and internationally for recognition and restitution.
For its part, the Canadian government and other institutions such as the RCMP also have long way to go to delivering on the Truth & Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action. Amnesty International continues to urge Canada to act on these and other recommendations without delay, including those from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls’ 231 Calls for Justice.
The complex process of genuine reconciliation in Canada cannot take place without truth and without an end to ongoing acts of colonial violence. Canada must not use the Papal visit and apology as a pretense to cover up its own responsibility for the laws and policies created to eradicate Indigenous cultures, languages, and Nations, and break children’s connections to their Indigenous identities.
The National Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available to provide 24-hour crisis support to former Indian Residential School students and their families toll-free at 1-866-925-4419. First Nations, Inuit and Metis who need immediate emotional support can contact the Hope for Wellness Help Line toll-free at 1-855-242-3310 or by online chat at hopeforwellness.ca.