MASKWACIS, Alberta (AP) — Pope Francis’ apology Monday for the Catholic Church’s role in Canada’s residential school system and the abuses that took place within it was a full-throated denunciation of a decadeslong policy of forced assimilation that aimed to strip Indigenous children of their culture and traumatized generations.
Speaking at the site of a former residential school south of Edmonton, Alberta, the pontiff said he was “deeply sorry” for actions by many in support of “the colonizing mentality of the powers that oppressed the Indigenous peoples.”
He also expressed sorrow over the schools’ systemic marginalization, denigration and suppression of Indigenous people, languages and culture; the “physical, verbal, psychological and spiritual abuse” children suffered after being taken from their homes at a young age; and the “indelibly” altered family relationships that resulted.
“I myself wish to reaffirm this, with shame and unambiguously. I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the Indigenous peoples,” Francis said.
Here are some reactions to the pope’s remarks:
“It was an achievement on the part of the Indigenous community to convince Pope Francis to come to a First Nation community and humble himself before survivors in the way he did today. It was special. And I know that it meant a lot to a lot of people. And every time he said the word sorry, people would start applauding,” Phil Fontaine, a residential school abuse survivor and former chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said in an interview with The Associated Press.
“We may all need time to fully absorb the gravity of this moment. … If you want to help us heal, stop telling us to get over it. … We can’t get over it when intergenerational trauma impacts every youth and every member, every family who had a residential school survivor. Instead of getting over it, I’m asking you to get with it, get with learning about our history, get with learning about our culture, our people, who we are,” Chief Desmond Bull of Louis Bull Tribe said during a news conference.
It “was validation that this really happened” for the apology to be heard by non-Indigenous people, Chief Tony Alexis of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation said, but the pope needs to follow up with action and “can’t just say sorry and walk away.”
“I’ve waited 50 years for this apology, and finally today I heard it,” Evelyn Korkmaz, a school survivor, said during a news conference. Unfortunately many family and community members did not live to see it due to suicide or substance-abuse, she said. But “I was hoping to hear some kind of work plan” for ways the church would be turning over documents and taking other concrete steps.
“I have a lot of of survivors and thrivers in my community who are happy to hear the pope has come to apologize. Words cannot describe how important today is for the healing journey for a lot of First Nations people,” Chief Vernon Saddleback of Samson Cree Nation said in a news conference. “The pope apologizing today was a day for everyone in the world to sit back and listen.”
“It’s something that is needed, not only for people to hear but for the church to be accountable,” said Sandi Harper of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, who attended the papal event in honor of her late mother, a former residential school student. Still, she told AP some Indigenous people are not ready for reconciliation: “We just need to give people the time to heal. It’s going to take a long time.”
Associated Press religion coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.
Alberta commits $20.8 million over the next four years to fight human trafficking
By Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton
The Alberta government is providing $20.8 million over the next four years to implement recommendations from a star-led task force on human trafficking.
Country singer Paul Brandt, chair of the Alberta Human Trafficking Task Force, personally thanked Premier Jason Kenney during the funding announcement Sunday at Edmonton International Airport for his willingness to prioritize the issue, and for putting faith in Brandt to lead the group.
“Premier Kenney’s longtime personal dedication and commitment to the issue of human trafficking is authentic and is admirable,” Brandt said.
“He’s the only political leader I’ve met in my 17 years of advocating for trafficking victims and survivors who took the time and initiative to personally write a plan to address this horrific crime.”
The money will establish an office to combat trafficking as well as a centre of excellence for research and data collection — recommendations the government accepted when the task force presented its report in March.
Justice Minister Tyler Shandro said the goal is to launch the office by next summer.
Other task force recommendations that will be supported include a new grant for community projects and Indigenous-led and culturally appropriate services. Civilian positions that will focus on supporting victims and survivors throughout human trafficking investigations will also be funded.
“Human trafficking is far more prevalent — way more common — than the stats would suggest because it’s a hidden crime,” Kenney said at the announcement.
“It festers in the dark. There are victims who face fear, shame and self-doubt and some who will never report what they’ve gone through.”
The task force was appointed in May 2020 and engaged with nearly 100 experts and survivors of trafficking to provide guidance on how to best implement the government’s action plan to fight human trafficking.
The government has said human trafficking includes sexual exploitation, forced labour trafficking and trafficking in human organs or tissues.
Kenney, who will be replaced as premier when his United Conservative Party selects a new leader on Thursday, noted he started fighting human trafficking over 20 years ago when he was an MP and joined a group of international parliamentarians on a coalition to fight the practice.
Later as Canada’s immigration minister, he said he took steps to make it easier for human trafficking victims who had migrated to Canada to obtain safety and protection.
In winter 2019, he said he committed the UCP to a nine-point action plan to combat human trafficking, which led to the Protecting Survivors of Human Trafficking Act, which took effect in May 2020.
Brandt said it was exciting to be part of the funding commitment at the airport, where he said he stood in 2019 for a partnership with the facility and other groups in the Edmonton region to fight trafficking, which he called “modern day slavery.”
“It has been our dream that special focus and permanent funding would one day become a reality. Today is that day,” Brandt said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 2, 2022.
Alberta announces combined $187 million in addictions and homelessness funding
By Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton
The Alberta government has announced more than $124 million over two years for addiction and mental health services in Edmonton and Calgary, with another $63 million aimed at reducing homelessness in the province over the same period.
The funding for Edmonton and Calgary will go toward increasing treatment spaces while expanding addiction services, with $70 million earmarked for capital spending and $54 million to assist operations.
A 75-bed, co-ed long-term treatment facility is planned to be operational in Edmonton by the end of 2023, while a similar facility is to be built in Calgary by early 2024.
The $63 million is to support steps outlined in the government’s action plan on homelessness.
Premier Jason Kenney stressed his government’s recovery-based approach to the addictions issue when he announced the funding Saturday, calling British Columbia’s recent move to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of hard drugs in January “reckless.”
“In the area of addressing addictions, there are many that believe recovery is a false hope. It’s not possible, and instead what we should do is actually to facilitate dangerous addictions rather than to offer an off-ramp to freedom from addiction,” Kenney said during the announcement at Edmonton’s Herb Jamieson Centre.
“The whole point is to give people a fighting chance to escape from the grips of addiction so they have the opportunity to build a new, safe fulfilling life.
“Recovery works. It’s not a new concept or an untested Utopian theory,” he said.
Under the Alberta plan, the number of winter shelter spaces will be expanded in communities like Edmonton, Wetaskiwin and Lethbridge, and in rural communities where there is an urgent and unmet need.
All provincially funded shelters will also provide round-the-clock access seven days a week, while funding will be equalized between community-based organizations in Edmonton and Calgary.
The funding will include $5 million to create up to 450 additional shelter spots in Edmonton, bringing the number of emergency spaces in the city to over 1,000.
The plan also includes $2.5 million in 2022-2023 to test the so-called service hub model in two pilot programs in Calgary and Edmonton. These six-month long programs will connect people directly with support and services such as addictions recovery, housing and emergency financial support, beginning this fall.
Meanwhile, the addictions funding will be used to increase the ability of direct outreach teams through Edmonton police and Alberta Health Services to provide support and overdose prevention services. The same expansion of services will also be carried out in Calgary.
Edmonton police chief Dale McFee lauded the fact that housing options include support for mental health and addictions as he personally thanked Kenney for the new funding.
“This is the biggest single investment that I’ve ever seen over the course of my career in actually addressing the system versus putting more money into silos that are actually generating a lot of the problem,” McFee said at the announcement.
Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said the funding would tackle the root causes of homelessness, and also praised the fact the province was delivering on a request to provide enhanced plans when prisoners are discharged from corrections facilities.
In July, the city requested a hub where social workers, firefighters and peace officers could work together to reduce crime and address a spike in violence downtown, in nearby Chinatown and and on the transit system.
“These investments show our collaborative approach is working, and together we are making life better for struggling Edmontonians,” Sohi said at the announcement.
But NDP Critic for Seniors and Housing Lori Sigurdson said in a news release that Kenney’s government has cut funding for housing, noting buildings that could have opened months ago are sitting empty because the government hasn’t provided operational funding.
“The money announced today does not even begin to address the deeper need for permanent supportive housing, social housing and affordable housing in this province,” she said.
According to the province, over 6,400 Albertans were experiencing homelessness— including nearly 4,000 using emergency shelters or on the streets — as of Jan. 31.
Alberta saw more than 1,600 opioid-related deaths in 2021.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 1, 2022.
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