No, Pope Francis is not looking for freshness with his visit to Canada. On Thursday, it will also be a good 30°C under Edmonton’s blue sky, where the sovereign Pope landed. And far from him the idea of proselytizing, even though 44% of the country’s population is Catholic. No, the reason for this crossing of the Atlantic for the 85-year-old Argentine can be summed up in two words: “penitential pilgrimage”.
A few weeks after an initial apology at the Vatican, the pope is expected to ask for forgiveness from indigenous, First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples. Because if the story is little known in France, the role of the Catholic Church in the destruction of Indian identities in Canada is very real. To understand this, we must go back to the 1880s, when the federal government signed a partnership with the various churches to create a network of boarding schools for aboriginal children on the American system.
“Killing the Indian in the Child’s Heart”
The goal, while the settlers are more and more and want to exploit the territory, is “to take the child away from his family, to cut him off from his culture of origin to facilitate his integration”, explains to 20 minutes Franck Miroux, Doctor of English Language Studies with specialization in Canada’s Indigenous Peoples. A motto suffices to sum up this goal: “To kill the Indian in the child’s heart”. At the time, the Catholic Church administered approximately 60% of these boarding schools, funded by the Canadian government, through which 150,000 children would pass.
At these boarding schools, “the children experience violence, some are raped, but all of them have first and foremost suffered the trauma of being cut off from their family at the age of five or six”, points out the lecturer in English. Children “deprived of love and attention” beyond their culture, who will then have “difficulty positioning themselves as parents”, become dysfunctional, violent or alcoholic. The boarding schools, which closed their doors from the 1970s, “still have consequences for the current generations”, says University of Toulouse researcher Jean-Jaurès.
The Vatican, the last mute
When the last two boarding schools closed in 1996, the first testimonies appeared. “Where the natives were intelligent is that they took joint legal action,” says Franck Miroux. The Canadian government is taking the lead ahead of a possible criminal sanction, introducing “a four-part settlement agreement”, including two financial compensations, one relating to the memory of the private schools. The last consists of a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” that worked between 2008 and 2015. It was also in 2008 that Canada and the various churches involved apologized. But not the Catholic Church.
The wound will reopen in 2019 and 2021, when more than 1,300 graves will be excavated near former boarding schools. “No mass grave, no mass grave, as we may have said by mistake, but unmarked children’s graves whose parents were not informed”, emphasizes the Toulouse researcher. Again, the Vatican remains silent and “this has caused a lot of misunderstanding and anger among the natives, churches have been burned in western Canada. »
Relieve individual suffering
The visit of an indigenous delegation to the Vatican, then the apologies from Rome by the Sovereign Pontiff in April, marked the first steps towards sharing this painful memory. The Pope’s visit to Canada should confirm that. “The symbolic issue is very important”, insists Franck Miroux, who makes this visit a matter of “personal suffering that can be alleviated”. “I hope this visit is the beginning of a change in history and a way for us to begin our healing journey,” said George Arcand Jr., Grand Chief of the Confederacy of Treaty #1 Nations. 6, on Canadian public television.
Many are also hoping for symbolic gestures, such as the repatriation of some and indigenous artefacts that have been stored in the Vatican for decades. But Franck Miroux sees no other direct consequences, as “the legal and financial aspect is closed”. However, the Pope’s unprecedented trip has another interest, according to him: to bring to light “the situation of the indigenous communities, which remains very precarious”.