‘The sun is shining on the Vatican’: B.C. First Nations leaders react to Pope Francis’ apology

Click to play video: 'B.C. First Nations leaders wait for concrete action after papal apology'
B.C. First Nations leaders wait for concrete action after papal apology
The reaction from B.C. First Nations leaders to Pope Francis' apology has been mixed, with some calling for the Pontiff to commit to actions as well as apologizing. Catherine Urquhart reports – Apr 1, 2022

Warning: This story deals with disturbing subject matter that may upset and trigger some readers. Discretion is advised.

Mixed reaction is pouring in from coast to coast following Pope Francis‘ apology for the grave and lasting harm caused by the church- and state-sponsored residential school system.

B.C. First Nations leaders say this is a historic moment and it is the beginning of a long road to reconciliation.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the B.C. Indian Chiefs told Global News he was uplifted by the apology he heard.

Click to play video: 'Grand Chief Stewart Phillip reacts to Papal apology'
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip reacts to Papal apology
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“I was absolutely surprised, I wasn’t expecting this. It’s a double-wow Friday for sure. The sun is shining on the Vatican and our people have waited for a very very long time to hear those beautiful words whereby the Pope, the Vatican has taken responsibility and has acknowledged the genocidal abuses of the residential school system and has committed to Canada and meeting with Indigenous people to continue this journey along this path after the door has been opened, fully opened,” Phillip said.

He added that Friday’s events made it a “great day” for all Canadians, saying all of the issues of anger, guilt, resentment and shame now have a chance to be dealt with through the apology and forgiveness.

“Today is a day for celebration,” Phillip said.

“I think that the apology and what that represents is an opportunity for all Canadians to begin to know and understand we are truly family. We are in this together and we need to lift each other up, hold each other up and create a better future for our children and grandchildren.”

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However, other leaders are more cautious about the apology from the Pope.

Click to play video: '‘The apology has a long way to go’: B.C. First Nations react to Pope’s apology'
‘The apology has a long way to go’: B.C. First Nations react to Pope’s apology

Kukpi7 Judy Wilson, an executive with the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said that when she first heard the Pope’s apology, she immediately thought of the hundreds of thousands of Indigenous children who were removed from their homes and families and forced to attend residential schools and those who didn’t make it home.

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“The Pope’s apology is too late, obviously. What we’re talking about is international crimes against humanity. An apology isn’t a get out of jail card.”

She said there needs to be full accountability from the church and the federal government and that has not happened yet.

She would have liked to see the delegation in Rome be led by survivors of residential schools who still feel like their voices have not been heard at an international level.

“Even now it’s a third-party type of an apology so it’s not truly (an apology),” she said, adding she has heard from many survivors who feel the same.

Click to play video: 'Pope apologizes publicly for harm caused in Canadian residential schools'
Pope apologizes publicly for harm caused in Canadian residential schools

In a livestreamed audience with more than 190 Indigenous survivors, elders, knowledge keepers, youth and leaders, the Pope said he was “deeply grieved” by the stories of abuse, hardship and discrimination he heard throughout the week.

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“All this made me feel two things very strongly — indignation and shame,” the Pope said Friday, before a packed room at the Vatican. “Indignation, because it is not right to accept evil, and even worse to grow accustomed to evil as if it were an inevitable part of the historical process.

“All these things are contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ. For the deplorable conduct of these 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.”

For Wilson, she wants to see what the Pope says the church is going to do next.

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“They need to release the records for sure,” she said. “It’s going to be a long, hard road for many of the areas that need to be done.

“Every single family has been impacted by this in one way or another.”

She said the apology still has a long way to go.

“The Pope’s apology is just words right now. It needs to be backed up by action. It needs to be backed up by commitment by both state government and churches to resolve this genocidal legacy our people have been impacted upon by residential schools.”

Click to play video: 'AFN Regional Chief says Pope Francis’ apology ‘long overdue’ but more needs to be done'
AFN Regional Chief says Pope Francis’ apology ‘long overdue’ but more needs to be done

For Phillip, the apology was a bigger step forward and said the most powerful thing on the face of the earth is forgiveness.

“Forgiveness sets us free. Forgiveness releases us of anger and resentment.”

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The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419) is available 24 hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience.

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