Warning: Some of the details in this story may be disturbing to some readers. Discretion is advised.
The elected chief of a Lower Mainland First Nation says he’s upset and unsatisfied with Pope Francis’ response to the discovery of the remains of 215 Indigenous students at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.
“Still, to this day, we can’t get an apology,” Musqueam Chief Wayne Sparrow told Global News Sunday.
“They should step up and give their explanation of why.”
In a statement Sunday, Francis expressed “sorrow” over the discovery, and called on political and Church authorities to work to shed light on what he called “this sad affair” and to foster healing.
“I join the Canadian Bishops and the whole Catholic Church in Canada in expressing my closeness to the Canadian people, who have been traumatized by the shocking news,” Francis said.
Earlier this week, Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Chief Rosanne Casimir demanded an apology from the Catholic Church for its role in operating residential schools across Canada.
A spokesperson for the nation said Sunday it would not be speaking publicly on any matters, including the Pope’s statement, until early next week.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also called on the church to take responsibility for its role in the schools.
Sparrow said Indigenous leaders in Canada have been pushing for an apology from the church for more than a decade, and that he wasn’t surprised by the Pope’s failure to do so Sunday.
“Par for the course that they don’t want to recognize the part that they’ve taken place. And they took a bigger part than the federal government,” he said.
“Canada’s come out and apologized for their part of what they did in the residential schools but the Catholic Church has to be held accountable.”
On Sunday, Archbishop of Vancouver Michael Miller offered his own apology, reading a statement he released earlier this week to congregants who had gathered at the Holy Rosary Cathedral.
“Given the events of recent days, with the tragic revelation of the unmarked graves of the 215 children at the Kamloops Indian Residential School, I would like to begin by reading to you my statement of apology and commitment, released earlier this past week,” he said.
Miller also read the Pope’s statement, though did not comment directly on the absence of an apology from the head of the church.
“I certainly am very edified that the holy father has done this,” Miller said.
The residential school system, which operated in Canada between 1831 and 1996, forcibly separated an estimated 150,000 Indigenous children from their homes.
The schools became havens for physical and sexual abuse, disease, malnutrition, and were used to extinguish Indigenous languages.
Sparrow said the grim discovery in Kamloops had opened old wounds among Musqueam members who survived the residential school system — some of them at the Kamloops Indian Residential School.
“The last 10 days have been really hard for a lot of our survivors,” he said, adding that they would not give up in the effort for a formal apology.
“We have to just keep on it until we get what every one of those children deserve, the survivors do and the families that have lost their loved ones.”
With files from Emad Agahi and the Associated Press
Anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience can access this 24-hour, toll-free and confidential National Indian Residential School Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419