TORONTO – Church-run residential schools that Aboriginal children in Canada were forced to attend were closed in the 1990s. Since then, the Canadian government and aboriginal communities have worked to address the deep damage there, which still reverberates today.
Here are five key moments leading up to Pope Francis’ pardon for indigenous peoples on Monday.
A brutal system of abuse in the name of integration.
The Indian Act of 1876 allowed the Canadian government to establish residential schools, most of which were run by the Roman Catholic Church, and assimilated by destroying the culture and languages of Aboriginal children.
They were punished for speaking tribal languages, wearing their hair in braids, or practicing a religion outside of what was taught in school.
For more than a century, about 150,000 students attended about 130 schools, where many were sexually abused, malnourished and sickened by poor conditions. Many died or never returned home.
Due to dwindling student numbers, the last of the schools closed in 1996, leading to a period of national reckoning, including official inquiries into Canada’s treatment of aboriginal people.
A major class action settlement for former students.
As a result of lawsuits by former students at the schools, as of 2021, Canadian courts have awarded more than 3.2 billion Canadian dollars to approximately 28,000 survivors. Reportd by an independent committee overseeing the settlement.
In addition to financial compensation, the settlement also includes funding for other initiatives such as memorials and other memorial projects and a program to provide mental health services to survivors and their families.
A national commission leads to reckoning with a sordid past.
The National Truth and Reconciliation Commission, formed in 2007 as part of the settlement agreement, met in seven cities across the country to hear first-hand accounts of, among other things, tribals sent to residential schools.
At local hearings, survivors shared stories of Catholic nuns abusing children as young as 10 and resorting to stealing apples from orchards for hungry students to eat.
In 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper demanded an official apology from the government to indigenous communities.
Evidence of unidentified graves has been found in residential schools.
Last year, the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation in British Columbia said they had found evidence of that. 215 unmarked graves of children On the grounds of the Kamloops Indian Residential School, it was once the largest in Canada, with about 500 students.
The discovery, made using ground-penetrating radar, shocked Canadians and renewed a national discourse around the horrors of residential schools.
Several communities also reported initial discoveries of unidentified graves on former residential school grounds. Last June, The Kowesses First Nation claimed to have found it A school site in Saskatchewan may have 751 unmarked graves.
A trip to Italy and a papal pardon.
In spring, A A delegation of tribal leaders Traveled from Canada to the Vatican and received a hopeful pardon from Pope Francis.
I feel “shame – grief and shame -” for the role Catholics have played “in the abuses you have suffered and the disrespect shown to your identity, your culture and your spiritual values”. Francis said. He also promised to go to Canada and make a personal apology.
Ian Aston Contributed reporting from Ottawa.