CORNWALL, Ontario – Archbishop Marcel Damphousse of the Ottawa-Cornwall Archdiocese of the Catholic Church has issued an apology for the Church’s role in Canada’s residential school system. The apology came on Monday, June 21, which is National Indigenous People’s Day.
“As we celebrate National Indigenous People’s Day, I extend my sincere apology for the involvement of the Catholic Church in the residential school system,” Damphousse said.
At the end of May, the remains of 215 Indigenous children were discovered on the grounds of a former residential school in Kamloops, BC. It is estimated that the Catholic Church ran up-to 70 per cent of all residential schools in Canada.
On June 5, Georgina Lazore, who’s parents and extended family attended the residential school in Kamloops, BC, lead a march through the City of Cornwall in honour of the 215 children who were discovered. Lazore described the residential school experience of members of her community.
“215 children were ripped out of their parent’s arms and brought to a strange place, with strange people,” Lazore said. “Their names were stripped away and they were given numbers. If they spoke their mother tongue, then they were whooped with a strap.”
Damphousse said that he was working to learn and better understand the impact that the Church had on Indigenous populations through the residential school system.
“I join with other bishops and religious leaders in Canada expressing my apology for the role the church played in the residential school system,” he said. “The accounts we heard, both in the Truth and Reconcilliation report and more recently in the past few weeks of the experience of many Indigenous residential school students were shameful. As a church, we failed not only to be authentic witnesses to the goodness of Jesus Christ, we sinned against the brothers and sisters in our care.”
Damphousse also called on Pope Francis to issue an apology.
“Words cannot undo the hurt, or return the deceased children to their families. We know the lingering generational affects of the trauma of Residential School students and their families,” Damphousse said. “As a member of the Catholic Church and Bishop, I am so sorry. I know I am not alone in my sorrow and contrition. I add my voice to those who are asking the Holy Father for an apology to Indigenous peoples of Canada.”
Abram Benedict, Grand Chief of the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne said that the apology was a good first step.
“Obviously an apology is a start,” he said. “I’m glad he is calling on the Vatican and the Pope to apologize.”
Benedict said that he felt it was important for the Church and the public at large to learn more about Indigenous people and their experiences.
Damphousse said that he was learning how he and the Archdiocese could offer support to the Indigenous population and was hoping to announce further action soon.
His full video can be viewed here: