More than two-thirds of Canada’s land mass is covered in both federally and provincially run schools where more than 150,000 aboriginal children were removed from their families for untold generations of lost education and foster care.
The Vatican must change its approach to Canada’s First Nations as well as return artefacts and documents collected there, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Aboriginal leaders told the Vatican ambassador to Canada, Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher.
Mr Trudeau and Mr Durocher met in Ottawa on Saturday to discuss a range of issues including reuniting Aboriginal children with their families, improving education for Aboriginals and returning to the Catholic Church artifacts collected during the residential school era.
An elderly Canadian PM made a powerful statement to the Vatican today. The Vatican is my home and I hope the rest of the world recognises that too. https://t.co/jZCeQ7ADds — Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) May 1, 2016
“Respect, reconciliation and dignity… we’ve begun to talk about these topics,” Mr Trudeau said.
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A source close to the archbishop’s visit told the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need that the Vatican must move beyond diplomatic positions and look at the issues “from the historical, not from the humanitarian perspective.”
The Vatican wants to see a shift in Canadian policy that will bring former residential school students and cultural heritage back to a level they knew.
A letter from Pope Francis to the Prime Minister has not yet been read out to the people of Canada, who still await more information on the Jesuit priest who founded the schools.
These church-sponsored institutions, often linked to Protestant churches, are blamed for the severe cultural destruction of generations of indigenous peoples.
“The country needs an understanding of that archive,” Mr Trudeau said. “That its research would provide the foundation to reflect and consider how we have moved forward as a nation and find the path to reconciliation.”
“So that when these important stories are ultimately told, there’s a catharsis and the reconciliation process is complete.”
Despite decades of analysis, the Vatican maintains that it had no role in the establishment of the schools, where Indigenous people say they were insulted, brutalised and stripped of their language, culture and identity.
“The church was taught that Indian students would not learn as well as native students, and that they would do worse in school and live worse lives in return,” a government review of residential schools said in 2007.
“The church’s position was that native children ‘seemed more affected by their heritage and their culture.’ This was the narrative that the church heard from the leaders, the doctors, the teachers.”
For years, the papal archives were the basis of this narrative but the Pope acknowledged that Church leaders had been “gravely mistaken” on the Australian Indigenous issue in a statement in 2009. He said that the teachings of Catholic theologians who were trained to gain insight into the Indigenous culture of Australia “must not have been enough to convince them that they did not understand Aboriginal culture and that a similar message to that effect could not be transmitted.”
He added: “Christians are to form their consciences in absolute faith in Christ, in the Eucharist, in the teachings of the church and in the social doctrine of the church.”