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Pope's apology must be followed by concrete action, says Anishinaabe advocateThe Pope's apology is just the first step of making amends with Indigenous people in Canada, says Riley Yesno.

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'I'm really looking forward to the accountability now that I think necessarily follows an apology'

CBC Radio(Submitted by Riley Yesno)5:43Pope's apology must be followed by concrete action, says Anishinaabe advocate

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

The Pope's apology is just the first step of making amends with Indigenous people in Canada, says writer and researcher Riley Yesno.

At the Vatican on Friday, Pope Francis told First Nations, Inuit and Métis delegates from Canada that he feels "sorrow and shame for the role that a number of Catholics, particularly those with educational responsibilities, have had in all these things that wounded you, and the abuses you suffered and the lack of respect shown for your identity, your culture and even your spiritual values."

"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. And I join my brothers, the Canadian bishops, in asking your pardon," the Pope said.

Between the 1870s and the 1990s, Canada's federal government took more than 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children from their families and forced them to attend residential schools designed to assimilate them by stripping them of their own languages and cultures. More than 60 per cent of the schools were run by the Catholic Church.

Yesno is a writer, speaker and researcher from Eabametoong First Nation in Ontario. Here is part of her conversation with As It Happensguest host Gillian Findlay.

Ms. Yesno, we just heard [former Assembly of First Nations national chief] Phil Fontaine saythat he finally feels he got the apology he was looking for today from Pope Francis. What did you make of the Pope's words?

I, like I'm sure most Indigenous people in this country, were profoundly affected by residential schools and residential schools run by the church. My grandparents are both residential school survivors.

But, for me, the apology wasn't something that I put a lot of weight to for my own personal expectations or healing. Though, I listened to Phil Fontaine's words and I recognize that that's not the case for every Indigenous person. Just like in 2008, when [former prime minister]Stephen Harper offered his official apology for the government's role in residentials schools, that was really profound for a lot of people to receive that recognition. 

So I'm happy that for those who needed it, that they got it. But I'm really looking forward to the accountability now, that I think necessarily follows an apology in order for it to have weight.

WATCH | Pope Francis apologizes to Indigenous delegates for 'deplorable' abuses at residential schools

'I am very sorry': Pope Francis apologizes for abuses at residential schools

2 days agoDuration 13:41Saying he was 'deeply grieved by the stories of the suffering' experienced in residential schools, Pope Francis apologized to Indigenous delegates at a public audience at the Vatican.13:41

Is there something more you think the Pope could have said or should have said today to make this apology more meaningful?

First, looking critically at the language that he used, I think that there are things that are very deliberate about it. So, for example, it was clear that he was talking about some members of the church at a specific time in their roles in residential schools, which is important, but also undermines the fact that the church continues to have a role in Indigenous affairs today, that there are ongoing impacts, [and] that the entire church condoned those happenings at the time. And so the focus of who is apologizing and for what, I think, could be broader still.

The other thing I think that they could have done is in addition to the recognition — which is all an apology really is, is a saying that I recognize there's there some level of responsibility here — is now going that extra step to say, "OK, because I recognize this, this what I'm going to do about it."

That said, I know that [the Pope is] also planning to come to Canada in the coming months. So in the time from now until then, I'm hoping that that's when they take the time to create those plans so that when they do arrive, there's something actionable they can present to Indigenous people.

  • Read Pope Francis's full remarks, apology for abuses by some Catholic Church members in residential schools

The genesis of this goes back to 2016. It was the 58th call to action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report, this call for an apology. And it was asked for within a period of one year. Why has this taken so long, do you think?

I think, first of all, that the political atmosphere around Indigenous affairs and around reconciliation has changed profoundly since the time of the TRC report to now. In just seven years, we have seen reconciliation come into a lot of people's public consciousness. You'll hear land acknowledgements all across Canada. It's something that is taught in schools.

This is vastly different from the Indigenous affairs landscape that, say, my parents or my grandparents grew up in. And so there's a level of public pressure and public support around accountability that there wasn't even at that time.

The other thing that I think is important to note here is that ... when you're sorry ... there usually has to be something that follows. And so my guess is also that at the time, they were not willing to commit to any sort of actionable response to an apology. So if they were to apologize, that would mean that they would have to do something about it. And perhaps at the time, that's not something that they wanted to do.

My hope is that now recognizing that, that we will see, as I mentioned, something actionable in the coming months.

WATCH | Indigenous delegates react to Pope Francis's apology on residential schools:

Indigenous delegates react to Pope Francis's apology for 'deplorable' abuses at residential schools

2 days agoDuration 3:35In order: Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Métis National Council President Cassidy Caron, Dene Nation Delegation Lead Chief Gerald Antoine and Phil Fontaine, the former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, share their reactions to Pope Francis's apology for the conduct of some members of the Catholic Church in Canada's residential school system.After Pope's apology, Quebec First Nations call for concrete action from Catholic Church
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