New York Times - Francis Begs Forgiveness - Includes comments from Assistant Professor Cody Groat

New York Times by Jason Horowitz, Ian Austen, Vjosa Isai, Elisabetta Povoledo, Mark Walker and Gaia Pianigiani posted July 25, 2022

The Roman Catholic leader apologized for the church’s role in running boarding schools where Indigenous children were sexually and physically abused and where many died.

MASKWACIS, Alberta — Pope Francis offered a sweeping apology to Indigenous people on their native land in Canada on Monday, fulfilling a critical demand of many of the survivors of church-run residential schools that became gruesome centers of abuse, forced assimilation, cultural devastation and death for over a century.

“I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the Indigenous peoples,” Francis said to a large crowd of Indigenous people, some wearing traditional clothing and headdresses, in Maskwacis, Alberta, the site of a former residential school.

The pope made his apology in a pow wow circle, a covered ring surrounding an open space used for traditional dancing and drumming circles. Around it were teepees, campfires, and booths labeled “Mental Health and Cultural Support.”

Francis, who arrived at the event being pushed in a wheelchair, added that his remarks were intended for “every Native community and person” and said that a feeling of “shame” had lingered since he apologized to representatives of Indigenous people in April at the Vatican.

He said he was “deeply sorry” — a remark that triggered applause and approving shouts — for the ways in which “many Christians supported the colonizing mentality of the powers that oppressed the Indigenous peoples.”

“I am sorry,” he continued. “I ask forgiveness, in particular, for the ways in which many members of the church and of religious communities cooperated, not least through their indifference, in projects of cultural destruction and forced assimilation promoted by the governments of that time, which culminated in the system of residential schools.”

Those schools separated children from parents; inflicted physical, sexual and mental abuse; erased languages; and used Christianity as a weapon to break the cultures, and communities, of Indigenous people. Christian churches operated most of the schools for the government with Catholic orders responsible for running 60 to 70 percent of the roughly 130 schools, where thousands of children died.

Francis said it was “right to remember” on the site of such traumas, even at the risk of opening old wounds.

“It is necessary to remember how the policies of assimilation and enfranchisement, which also included the residential school system, were devastating for the people of these lands,” he said, adding, “I thank you for making me appreciate this.”

He called the abuses often carried out with missionary zeal, a “disastrous error” that eroded the people, their culture and values.

Francis also said that “begging pardon is not the end of the matter,” adding that he “fully” agreed with skeptics who wanted actions. And he said that he hoped for further investigations and that “concrete ways” could be found to help survivors begin a path toward healing and reconciliation.

After delivering his speech, which he offered in Spanish and which was translated into English, Chief Wilton Littlechild of the Ermineskin Cree Nation, who had introduced the pope, fitted him with a headdress, its white feathers standing over his white robes. The crowd erupted in applause.

When Francis had finished his remarks, many who had listened said they were satisfied with his apology.

“It was genuine and it was good,” said Cam Bird, 42, a residential school survivor from Little Red River reserve in Saskatchewan. “He believes us.”

But others were still taking stock of what had just happened after so many generations of devastation and trauma.

“I haven’t really digested it yet,” said Barb Morin, 64, from Île-à-la-Crosse, Saskatchewan, whose parents suffered in residential schools and who wore a shirt reading “Residential School Survivors Never Forgotten.” “I’m having a really hard time internalizing this right now.”

EDMONTON, Alberta — Hours after delivering a sweeping apology on the land of Indigenous people for his church’s role in causing generations of abuse and trauma at church-run residential schools, Pope Francis met with more survivors on church grounds.

Calling himself “a friend and pilgrim in your land,” Francis laid out his vision at the Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples in Edmonton, Alberta for how an open and tolerant church could spiritually, and practically, achieve reconciliation with representatives of the First Nations, the Métis and the Inuit.

“That is what the church is, and should always be — the place where reality is always superior to ideas,’’ the pontiff said. “Not a set of ideas and precepts to drill into people, but a welcoming home for everyone.”

Francis expanded on his appeal for forgiveness that he had made earlier in the day.

“It pains me to think that Catholics contributed to policies of assimilation and enfranchisement that inculcated a sense of inferiority,” Francis said, “robbing communities and individuals of their cultural and spiritual identity, severing their roots and fostering prejudicial and discriminatory attitudes.’’

He noted that “this was also done in the name of an educational system that was supposedly Christian.”

Francis then tried to meld the theology of the church with the spirituality of Indigenous people, but noted, “I can only imagine the effort it must take, for those who have suffered so greatly because of men and women who should have set an example of Christian living, even to think about reconciliation.”

He said it was all the worse because so many priests and nuns contributed to “lasting pain.”

Francis, a critic of proselytizing and colonialism, said it happened “because believers became worldly, and rather than fostering reconciliation, they imposed their own cultural models. This attitude dies hard, also from the religious standpoint.”

He talked about the “shame, as believers” for what had transpired, and used Indigenous symbols, including the tepee, to draw more connections with the Catholic faith. He argued that the example of Christ on the cross, “crucified in the many students of the residential schools,” was the transformative power that would turn sorrow into love and result into true reconciliation.

“In the name of Jesus,” he said, “may this never happen again in the Church.”

ALEXIS NAKOTA SIOUX NATION, Alberta — Since 1887, Catholics, most of them Indigenous, have made an annual pilgrimage to the reed-lined shore of Lac Ste. Anne. And for much of that period, the closest Indigenous community to the site, what is today known as the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation, has been hosting pilgrims.

With Pope Francis planning to attend on Tuesday, the people of Alexis have expanded their usual welcome. At the grounds running down to the lake shore, space has been cleared for upward of 3,000 campers, and adjacent fields nearby have been cleared for more for if that proves insufficient. Portable toilets dot the community, which is about three miles from the shrine, and a long row of portable buildings has been fitted with showers.

On Sunday afternoon, a steady stream of campers were arriving, some hauling large trailers, others bringing one-person tents or making shelters from logs and tarps.

“There are a lot of feelings about Pope Francis coming here,” said Chief Tony Alexis. “There’s the people who are very happy and celebrating that Pope Francis is here because they’ve always been faithful to the church. And there’s the ones who have been struggling with the pain that has been caused because of residential schools. So they’re a little bit apprehensive.”

Thousands of Indigenous children died and countless others were sexually and physically abused at the schools.

Not everyone arrived in a car or a pickup. Adam McDonald had walked from Fort McMurray, Alberta, a distance he measured precisely at 477.5 kilometers (296.7 miles). He pulled a wagon, which, he said, weighed up to 300 pounds when fully loaded during the two-and-a-half-week walk. Fastened at front end was a flag commemorating missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, while a commemorative flag for children who had died at residential schools was unfurled at the back.

“After the pope blesses the water, I’m going to release a lot of weight,” he said on Sunday. “All of that weight that I’ve been carrying for a number of years, I will let it go.”

Nearby, outside a large trailer, Marie Trottier was selling traditional beaded crucifixes hanging on deerskin necklaces. For more than two decades, Ms. Trottier, who is Métis and lives in the northern Saskatchewan community of Buffalo Narrows, has assisted priests in conducting the Dene language service at the Mass.

Ms. Trottier said she had cried when she watched video of the pope land on Sunday in Edmonton, Alberta. She said that the abuse at residential schools had never shaken her faith.

“My mum and dad raised me with this faith, the Catholic Church, and I’m going to live with it; I’m going to die with it,” Ms. Trottier, 74, said. “It’s not God or Jesus that made a mistake. It’s the human beings that made that mistake.”

MASKWACIS, Alberta — Survivors of the abuses in Canada’s church-run residential schools and advocates for Indigenous people listened to Pope Francis beg for forgiveness on Monday in a damp field that resonated with generations of pain and trauma.

Before his speech, the pope prayed at the nearby Ermineskin cemetery. He was pushed in a wheelchair by aides and lowered his head as he visited graves. Survivors gathered to hear his remarks weighed what the apology meant.

“Today means hope and healing,” said Leanne Louis, 52, who wore a traditional ribbon skirt and held an Eagle Staff representing the Montana First Nation in Maskwacis. “Hope for a better future for all of our residential school survivors.”

Ms. Louis said she herself was a survivor of the Maskwacis school, which she attended as a day student, and where she was beaten by teachers and sexually abused by other students as a third grader.

She said she had a mental block of the time, forgetting the names of teachers and their faces. Her mother, she said, also suffered physical and sexual abuse at the school and was broken by it. “She became an alcoholic,” said Ms. Louis, who has four children. “She drank 24/7. I was raised by my grandparents and made the choice to never touch alcohol.”

But the grandparents who raised her were also survivors of the same school, though they never spoke a word about it. Her grandfather went deaf as a boy studying there and developed a lifelong animosity for education. “He hated education,” she said, adding that it was an insidious result of his abuse there. “He hated school.”

“It’s a first good step,” Chief Leeketchemonia, 50, of the Keseekoose First Nation, said of the pontiff’s apology, “but a lot more work needs to be done.”

He said he hoped it would “get the healing started” and said there needed to be “more involvement on the church’s behalf to support First Nations and to regain trust. A lot of our elders say that can be given will ever make up for what was taken away from them.”

Leah Omeasoo Gillette, 40, of the Samson Cree Nation, which also lived on the Maskwacis reservation, performed for Francis as a dancer, wearing a Jingle Dress, also known as a healing dress, which jangled with tin cones.

While she was herself not a survivor of the schools, she said she considered herself “an intergenerational survivor.”

“I have experience trauma in my life,” she said, “and I believe it all stemmed from the residential schools.”

Before the pope arrived, Elder Ted Quewezance, a residential school survivor from Keeseekoose First Nation, who has played a leading role in the search for children’s graves around the schools, said, “You will have to decide if you will accept or reject the apology.”

“Most of my life I was a very angry man and a very hurt man,” he said, his voice breaking as friends and family rubbed his back. “All that’s happened to me, I know that accepting the apology will help me let go of my pain. When you are abused, that is all you think about it. You relive the experience over and over again.”

The investigation into Canada’s scandalous system of mandatory residential schools for Indigenous children was among the most comprehensive reviews in the country’s history, taking testimony from more than 6,000 witnesses and reviewing thousands of documents over six years.

And, in the end, the conclusion of the National Truth and Reconciliation Commission was unambiguous: “Children were abused, physically and sexually, and they died in the schools in numbers that would not have been tolerated in any school system anywhere in the country, or in the world.”

From the 1880s through the 1990s, the Canadian government forcibly removed at least 150,000 ​Indigenous children from their homes and sent ​them t​o residential schools to assimilate them. ​Their languages and religious and cultural practices were banned, sometimes using violence. It was, the ​commission ​reported in 2015, a system of “cultural genocide.”

Because of the schools, generations of Indigenous children were raised by adults, including priests and nuns, who had little understanding of their roles, and many students developed mental health and substance abuse problems from the trauma they suffered at the schools.

The number of students who died at the schools is still a matter of historical research. But Murray Sinclair, a former judge, senator and head of the commission, said he estimates that the figure exceeds 10,000 children.

Death came in many forms. Diseases like the Spanish flu and tuberculosis raced through the overcrowded schools. Many had farms tended by students where accidents, sometimes fatal, occurred. Malnutrition, a result of underfunding, was rife at many schools. And fires destroyed several of the remote schools, often with students trapped inside.

While the federal government funded and established the system, it turned to churches to operate most of them, which in most cases used the schools as missionary outposts. Depending on the period of time, the Roman Catholic Church operated between 60 and 70 percent of the schools, with Protestant denominations running the balance.

The nation’s attention refocused on the legacy of the schools last year after analyses of ground-penetrating radar revealed evidence of more than 1,000 remains buried in unmarked graves around several schools. For most of the time that the system operated, the government refused to reimburse the churches for burials or to pay to return students’ bodies to their communities.

The ground-penetrating radar searches continue at many school sites, and many communities are expected to hold difficult discussions about whether to exhume the remains.

Pope Francis’s first apology in Canada to Indigenous people for the abuse they suffered at residential schools was made in an intimate setting, at the Ermineskin Cree Nation, the site of one of the 130 schools that were once spread across most of Canada.

The former Indian Residential School that stood at Ermineskin, a town of just over 3,000 people that is 60 miles south of Edmonton, Alberta, was not among the most notorious or the largest schools in the system. But like all of them, it was a place of horrors for the children forced to attend it between 1894 and 1976.

“As a survivor, I know what is to come will be painful,” Chief Randy Ermineskin of the Ermineskin First Nation said in a statement. “Just seeing pictures of the schools, remembering the hallways, the classrooms, how we were treated — it is triggering. It’s emotional.”

Established by Roman Catholic missionaries, the Ermineskin school became overcrowded early on, a product of the federal government’s chronic underfunding of its system, which a National Truth and Reconciliation Commission found was set up to eradicate Indigenous languages and cultures.

That overcrowding caused the spread of disease through Ermineskin’s dorms. The federal government estimated that in the 1920s half its students had tuberculosis.

And there was worse, according to testimony from former Ermineskin students. Many described suffering physical, sexual and emotional abuse at the school.

Last year, the Ermineskin Cree Nation brought in technicians from a Montreal-based engineering firm to search the former school grounds and nearby cemeteries for the remains of former students in unmarked graves, a process still underway. It followed the announcement that there was evidence of 215 grave sites at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia, a revelation that shocked the nation.

The government took control of the school from the church in 1969. The dorms were closed shortly afterward and it continued as a day school until 1976.

Francis did not see any of the school buildings that continue to haunt the memories of former students. They were long ago demolished and replaced by a black stone monument bearing a drawing of the school, its name and dates of operation, along with the inscription “Honoring Our Survivors” in English and Cree.

ROME — Much remains unknown about the specific operations of Canada’s church-run residential schools, in part, some critics say, because Catholic orders that ran them have only recently begun to open their archives.

Kimberly Murray, a Mohawk lawyer who was executive director of the National Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which investigated the residential school system until 2015, said that at that time, “Catholic entities” had been “the most difficult’’ to get records from.

Sometimes, she said, that was because there were so many different entities — orders, congregations, dioceses — that had to be dealt with individually.

The residential schools were run by various Christian denominations, but most were run by the Catholic Church. Each Catholic order, though, kept its own records, which would not have been shared with the Holy See, an archivist at the Vatican said.

But Stephanie Scott, executive director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, a Canadian archive and research body, said last year’s discovery of signs of unmarked graves at the site of a former residential school in British Columbia had “changed the landscape across the country, not only with the church, but also the federal government.”

Earlier this year, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, which managed the most schools, 48 in all, gave Raymond Frogner, the center’s archivist, access to the congregation’s historical records. Mr. Frogner found administrative records, as well as photographs of life at residential schools that “could give some indication of children who perhaps might have been known to be lost,” he told the CBC.

“It has changed, we are on the right path, the right road,” said Ms. Scott. “It is not an ideal, perfect situation yet.”

Access to the archive in Rome was “the result of ongoing dialogue and communication” with the Oblate religious community in Canada, which last year pledged to make all its archives available after unmarked graves were found in June 2021 at the former Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan, which the Oblates had operated.

The Oblates said at the time that they were committed “to establish the truth of what happened in residential schools,” and the order’s involvement in running them.

Ms. Scott said that since the discovery of the unmarked graves last year there had been a groundswell of support from the Oblates but also provincial and community archives and two other Catholic congregations.

“From where I am sit and seven years later, following the close of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, we are in a position where we are now able to gather further information that the TRC did not previously hold and some of the challenges that they faced,” she said.

“The landscape has changed, and it’s only through the spirit of the children guiding that process, because I can tell you that until this point we were struggling,” she said. “People would not reach out to us, and all of a sudden they are, asking how they can help. So I am hopeful,” she said.

OTTAWA — The events that led to Pope Francis’ coming to Canada to offer an apology to Indigenous people for the harm they suffered in church-run schools can be traced to a Canadian television program that aired 32 years ago.

During it, Phil Fontaine, then a regional chief in Manitoba, told an interviewer in often harrowing detail about being abused as a student at residential schools run by the Roman Catholic Church. His story was a revelation to non-Indigenous Canadians.

“Then, there was very little known about the residential school experience; it just wasn’t a factor in the lives of ordinary Canadians,” Mr. Fontaine said last week in an interview as he prepared to travel to meet the pope at the site of a former residential school. “I thought that the best way to come to grips with this issue was to go public and, in effect, call out the church.”

But Mr. Fontaine did not just retell what had happened to him. He also presented a list of demands: that school records be opened to allow researchers to determine what happened, that there be a public inquiry and, finally, that former students get a formal apology.

With the pope’s apology on Monday, Mr. Fontaine will finally have achieved all those goals after decades of resistance.

Along the way, Mr. Fontaine became the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations and a leading plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit. That suit was eventually settled, with apologies and billions of dollars in reparations from the federal government, which established the system, and the Protestant churches that ran some of them.

Perhaps just as important, the settlement established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which heard from more than 6,000 witnesses and combed through documents to tell the grim story of the schools, where thousands of children died and sexual and physical abuse was widespread.

Mr. Fontaine also continued to push the Vatican, meeting privately as chief with Pope Benedict XVI. No apology came from a pope until this year, though, and the Catholic church has paid only a sliver of the 25 million Canadian dollars (about $19.3 million) it agreed to raise in reparations as part of the lawsuit settlement.

Like most Indigenous people, Mr. Fontaine does not believe that the process of reconciliation is even close to being finished. But he does marvel at the progress he and many others achieved over three decades.

“This speaks to the incredible persistence and resiliency of our community to stay focused on getting things done right,” Mr. Fontaine said. “We didn’t anticipate that we would be as successful as we were.”

As Pope Francis traveled to Canada this week to apologize for the church’s role in residential schools for Indigenous children, the United States also continued to wrestle with the legacy of its government-run schools for Native American children.

An initial investigation commissioned by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and released this year cataloged some of the brutal conditions that Native American children endured at more than 400 boarding schools that the U.S. federal government forced them to attend between 1819 and 1969. The inquiry was an initial step, Ms. Haaland said, toward addressing the “intergenerational trauma” that the policy left behind.

An Interior Department report released on Wednesday highlighted the abuse of many of the children at the U.S.-government-run schools, with instances of beatings, withholding of food and solitary confinement. It also identified burial sites at more than 50 of the former schools, and said that “approximately 19 federal Indian boarding schools accounted for over 500 American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian child deaths.” The number of recorded deaths is expected to grow, the report said.

The report is the first step in a comprehensive review that Ms. Haaland, the first Native American U.S. cabinet secretary, announced in June after the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves of children who attended similar schools in Canada provoked a national reckoning there.

Beginning in 1869 and until the 1960s, hundreds of thousands of Native American children in the United States were taken from their homes and families and placed in the boarding schools, which were operated by the government and churches.

There were 20,000 children at the schools by 1900; by 1925, the number had more than tripled, according to the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, based in Minneapolis.

The discovery of the unmarked graves in western Canada last year — 215 in British Columbia, 750 more in Saskatchewan — led Ms. Haaland to announce in May of this year that her agency would search the grounds of former schools in the United States and identify any remains. Ms. Haaland’s grandparents attended such schools.

“The consequences of federal Indian boarding school policies — including the intergenerational trauma caused by the family separation and cultural eradication inflicted upon generations of children as young as 4 years old — are heartbreaking and undeniable,” Ms. Haaland said during a news conference. “It is my priority to not only give voice to the survivors and descendants of federal Indian boarding school policies, but also to address the lasting legacies of these policies so Indigenous peoples can continue to grow and heal.”

Although Pope Francis has apologized to Indigenous people for the harm they suffered at residential schools operated by the Roman Catholic Church, another major point of contention still looms over the church’s relationship with Canada’s first people.

Unlike the Canadian government and the Protestant denominations that also ran residential schools, the Catholic Church has largely not fulfilled its commitments under a landmark class action settlement to compensate former students.

As the pope participates in reconciliation events in Canada this week, hopes remain high that he will back up the church’s apology with steps toward reparations.

Under a settlement in 2006 of a class action brought by former students, most of the 4.7 billion Canadian dollars paid in reparations came from the federal government. Protestant churches paid about 9.2 million Canadian dollars.

But the Catholic Church, which ran about 70 percent of the more than 130 schools, has paid just 1.2 million of the 25 million Canadian dollars it had agreed to raise in cash contributions as compensation. The schools operated from the 1870s until 1996.

That anemic fund-raising effort was partly because the Catholic Church lacks a central governing body in Canada, unlike its Protestant counterparts.

But the church was also effectively released from its obligations when a Conservative government led by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper decided in 2015 not to appeal a key court decision in favor of the church.

That decision sided with church lawyers, who argued that the 1.2 million-dollar payment settled all of its obligations.

Why the government backed off from a legal challenge is unclear.

“This was a decision of the previous Conservative government,” Justine Leblanc, a spokeswoman for Marc Miller, the current Indigenous affairs minister, wrote in an email. “We cannot speculate as to their internal decision-making process.”

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafonde, the academic director of the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre, accused the government of giving the Catholic Church special consideration.

“The federal government — as administrator of the settlement — treated the Catholic entity differently from other churches almost from the beginning,” she wrote in an analysis last December. “It permitted the Catholic entity to make ‘best efforts’ to raise funds to fulfill obligations and, from what is known, did only minimal monitoring of whether the entity met its obligations.”

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops announced last year that it had launched another fund-raising attempt, this time with a target of collecting 30 million Canadian dollars over five years.

So far the church has raised 4.6 million Canadian dollars.

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican’s museums are undoubtedly best known for their masterpieces by Caravaggio, Raphael and Michelangelo. But unbeknownst to many, the Vatican also has an ethnological museum with some 80,000 pieces that originated from cultural items assembled for a 1925 exhibition sponsored by Pope Pius XI.

The “Vatican Missionary Exposition,” as it was known, consisted of cultural material from Africa, the Americas, Asia and Oceania “minutely and vividly portraying the life and customs of natives in every corner of the globe where Catholic missionaries are engaged,” The Associated Press wrote at the time. Held in the Vatican gardens, the exhibition drew more than one million visitors.

Indigenous leaders in Canada now want some of these pieces back.

Last December, the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, a group that represents the interests of Inuvialuit people, called for the “immediate return of all Indigenous artifacts held in the collection of the Vatican Museum.” The group singled out an Inuvialuit kayak that it described in a statement “as a piece of Inuvialuit history, made by Inuvialuit hands in Inuvialuit traditions.”

“It is not ‘the pope’s kayak,’” the group said.

The kayak was one of several pieces shown to representatives from Canadian Indigenous communities during a visit to the Museums last spring as part of their weeklong visit to the Vatican. Other items included moccasins, jewelry and thread-embroidered gloves.

After the trip, several delegates told Canadian news media that at least some of the material should be repatriated.

A sacred ceremonial pipe, for example, has no business being in the Vatican Museums, said Norman Yakeleya, from the Dene Nation in the Northwest Territories. He suggested that plastic models could be displayed instead.

Cody Groat, a Kanyen’kehaka citizen from Six Nations of the Grand River Reserve, Ontario, and an assistant professor of history and Indigenous studies at Western University in London, Ontario, said the items in the Vatican belonged where they originated.

"They have meaning that is contemporary to us today, they have teachings that they can provide us today,” Professor Groat said. “They’re not something that we are just going to put on display. It’s something we are going to use to help revitalize our culture and our nations.”

But the Vatican, he said, might be reluctant to repatriate items because of the precedent it could set. “It’s not just a Canadian nation issue,” Professor Groat said.

Cultural items from North America are not currently on exhibit at “Anima Mundi,” or “soul of the world,” the name of the ethnological collection. The museum is instead showcasing the permanent collection from Australia and Oceania.

Gloria Bell, who teaches art history at McGill University in Montreal, said her research countered the Vatican’s official narrative that the items in its collection were gifts given to the pope for the 1925 exhibition.

Given archival records and the history of missionary labor at church-run residential schools where Indigenous children were forcibly sent, Professor Bell said, “it’s clear that some of these were sent under coercive circumstances.”

“Using the term gift glosses over the colonial legacy of the Anima Mundi exhibition and how the majority of this collection was acquired,” she said.

TORONTO — The last church-run residential schools in Canada that Indigenous children were forced to attend, and where many were abused, closed in the 1990s. Since then, the Canadian government and Indigenous communities have worked to address the profound damage inflicted there, which continues to reverberate today.

Here are five important moments leading to the apology Pope Francis is to deliver to Indigenous communities on Monday.

A brutal system of abuse in the name of assimilation.

The Indian Act of 1876 allowed the Canadian government to establish the residential schools, most of which were operated by the Roman Catholic Church and were meant to assimilate Indigenous children by erasing their culture and languages.

They were punished for speaking Indigenous languages, wearing their hair in braids or practicing religion outside of what was being taught at school.

Over more than a century, roughly 150,000 students attended some 130 schools, where many were sexually abused, malnourished and fell sick from the poor conditions. Many died or never returned home.

As the number of students dwindled, the last of the schools closed in 1996, ushering in a period of national reckoning, including official investigations, over Canada’s treatment of Indigenous people.

A major class action settlement for former students.

As a result of a lawsuit by former students at the schools, Canadian courts approved a sweeping class-action settlement that has paid out more than 3.2 billion Canadian dollars to about 28,000 survivors, according to a 2021 report by an independent committee overseeing the settlement.

In addition to financial compensation, the settlement also included funding for other initiatives, such as memorials and other commemorative projects and a program that provides mental health services to survivors and their families.

A national commission leads to a reckoning with a grim past.

A National Truth and Reconciliation Commission created in 2007 as part of the settlement agreement hosted gatherings in seven cities across the country to, among other things, hear the firsthand accounts of Indigenous people who had been sent to residential schools.

At local hearings, survivors shared their stories of Catholic monks raping children younger than 10 and hungry students resorting to stealing apples from orchards to eat.

In 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued an official apology from the government to Indigenous communities.

Evidence of unmarked graves discovered at residential schools.

Last year, the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation in British Columbia said it had found evidence of unmarked graves of 215 children on the grounds of the Kamloops Indian Residential School, which was once the largest in Canada, with about 500 students.

The discovery, made using ground-penetrating radar, shocked Canadians and revived a national discourse around the horrors of residential schools.

Several other communities also announced preliminary findings of possible unmarked graves on former residential school grounds. Last June, Cowessess First Nation said it had found 751 possible unmarked graves at the site of a school in Saskatchewan.

A trip to Italy and a papal apology.

In the spring, a delegation of Indigenous leaders from Canada traveled to the Vatican, and received a hoped-for apology from Pope Francis.

“I feel shame — sorrow and shame — for the role” that Catholics played “in the abuses you suffered and in the lack of respect shown for your identity, your culture and even your spiritual values,” Francis said. He also promised to travel to Canada and deliver a personal apology.

VATICAN CITY — When Pope Francis apologized in Canada for the Roman Catholic Church’s involvement in a system of boarding schools that abused Indigenous children for more than a century, he wasn’t the first pontiff to try to make belated amends.

During his 27-year papacy, Saint John Paul II issued some 100 apologies, some specific, others broad.

Visiting the Dominican Republic in 1992, John Paul recalled “the enormous suffering” endured by the Indigenous people during centuries of colonization. “We must in all sincerity acknowledge the abuses that were committed,” he said.

In 2000, the pope issued a sweeping apology for two millennia worth of past sins, citing religious intolerance and injustice toward Jews, Muslims, women, immigrants, the poor, Indigenous peoples, and others.

And a year later, writing to the church in Oceania, the area that includes Australia, New Zealand and scattered South Pacific islands, John Paul II expressed deep regret for “the shameful injustices done to Indigenous peoples,” lamenting the role that members of the Church may have played, “especially where children were forcibly separated from their families,” he wrote. (A footnote: it was the first papal document posted via the internet.)

Pope Benedict XVI wrote a letter in 2010 to Irish Catholics saying he was “truly sorry” about the abuses suffered by Irish children, including those who were abused in residential institutions.

And he met with Canadian Indigenous leaders in 2009, expressing “sorrow at the anguish caused by the deplorable conduct of some members of the Church” in Canada. He offered “his sympathy and prayerful solidarity,” adding that “acts of abuse cannot be tolerated in society,” but stopped short of a full apology.

Pope Francis has been more decisive. While on a 2015 trip to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay, Pope Francis issued a direct apology for the complicity of the Roman Catholic Church in the oppression of Latin America during the colonial era. “I say this to you with regret: many grave sins were committed against the native peoples of America in the name of God,” Francis told a gathering of social activists, farmers, workers and Bolivian Indigenous people in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia.

He then “humbly” asked for forgiveness. “Not only for the offenses of the Church herself, but also for crimes committed against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of America,” he said.

Two years later, Francis apologized for the “sins and failings of the Church and its members, among whom priests, and religious men and women who succumbed to hatred and violence, betraying their own evangelical mission” in the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

In 2020, the Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, wrote a letter to Pope Francis demanding a public apology for the abuses inflicted on the Indigenous peoples of Mexico.

A year later, Francis wrote to Mexican bishops urging clergy members to “recognize the painful errors committed in the past,” and calling on them to re-examine the role the church had played in the country’s history. The letter prompted controversy among the political right in Spain, which rallied behind the country’s role in conquering the Americas 500 years ago.

ROME — Over the last few weeks, close watchers of the Roman Catholic Church have carefully studied shadows on the Vatican walls for proof that Pope Francis is about to retire.

They pointed at an unexpected move to create new cardinals in August as a sign that Francis, 85, was stacking the college that will pick his successor before an early exit. They read deep into his planned visit to an Italian town with a connection to a medieval pope who called it quits. They saw the pope’s use of a wheelchair and his cancellation of a trip to Africa as evidence of his papacy’s premature ending, despite Vatican explanations about a healing right knee.

But in an interview this month, Francis, who is on the second day of a planned six-day visit to Canada, dispelled the rumors, calling the supposed evidence mere “coincidences” and telling Reuters that the idea of resignation “never entered my mind. For the moment no. For the moment, no. Really.”

The only shadow that seemed real then was the one cast by Francis’s predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who in 2013 became the first pontiff to retire in nearly 600 years. In doing so, he changed the nature, and perception, of the papacy from a lifetime mission assigned by the Holy Spirit to a more earthly calling, subject to political pressures, health assessments and considerations about the church’s best interests.

“Now it is much easier to envision a resignation because Benedict paved the way for that, and it changed our perception,” said Giovanna Chirri, a veteran Vatican reporter who broke the news of Benedict’s retirement when she understood the pope, to the shock of the cardinals around him, tender his resignation while speaking in Latin. “It is not like before.”

For all of Benedict’s struggles to leave a mark on the church, his papacy is often remembered for its public relations missteps and inconvenient revelations about dysfunction within the Vatican. But the German pontiff’s decision to quit transformed the office, creating pre-Benedict and post-Benedict eras when it comes to the expectations of how long popes will stay in power.

Francis is clearly living in the post-Benedict era, often leaving open the possibility of one day resigning if declining health made it impossible to run the church.

“But when the time comes that I see that I can’t do it, I will do it,” Francis said again of retirement in the Reuters interview. “And that was the great example of Pope Benedict. It was such a very good thing for the church. He told popes to stop in time. He is one of the greats, Benedict.”