(AP) — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
said Friday that he has asked Pope Francis
to visit Canada
and apologize for church-run boarding schools
where hundreds of unmarked graves have been discovered, and that Canadians are “horrified and ashamed” of their government’s long-standing policy of forcing Indigenous children
to attend such schools.
Indigenous leaders announced this week that 600 or more remains were discovered at the Marieval Indian Residential School
, which operated from 1899 to 1997, and that 215 remains were discovered at a similar school in British
Columbia last month.
From the nineteenth century to the 1970s, more than 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend state-funded Christian schools, the majority of which were run by Roman Catholic
missionary congregations, as part of a campaign to integrate them into Canadian society.
Indigenous leaders have demanded that Pope Francis apologize, which Trudeau reiterated on Friday, saying the pope should visit Canada to do so.
“I have personally spoken with His Holiness, Pope Francis, to impress upon him how important it is that he not only apologizes, but that he apologizes to indigenous Canadians on Canadian soil,” Trudeau said.
“I am aware that the Catholic church
leadership is considering and actively engaged in determining what next steps can be taken.”
Following the discovery of the British Colombia
remains, Francis expressed his sorrow and urged religious and political leaders to shed light on "this sad affair," but he stopped short of issuing an official apology
The archbishop of Regina, Saskatchewan, Don Bolen, posted a letter to the Cowessess First Nation on the archdiocese's website this week, in which he repeated an apology he said he made two years ago.
Almost three-quarters of the 130 residential schools were run by Catholic missionary congregations, with others run by the United, Presbyterian, and Anglican churches, all of which had previously apologized for their roles in the abuse.
Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized in Parliament in 2008, and Canada offered billions of dollars in compensation as part of a lawsuit
settlement between the government, churches, and the approximately 90,000 surviving students.
The government has admitted that physical
and sexual abuse
was widespread in the schools, with students being beaten for speaking their native languages; thousands of children died there from disease and other causes, and many never returned to their families.
“This was an incredibly harmful government policy that was Canada’s reality for many, many decades, and Canadians today are horrified and ashamed of how our country behaved,” Trudeau said. “It was a policy that ripped kids from their homes, communities, culture, and language, and forced assimilation.”
According to Trudeau, many Canadians will be unable to celebrate the country's birthday on July 1.
Trudeau stated, “Canadians across the country are waking up to something that, quite frankly, Indigenous communities have long known.”
“Past trauma reverberates strongly today.”
Residential schools have been dubbed a system of "cultural genocide" by Indigenous leaders.
According to Chief Cadmus Delorme of the Cowessess First Nation, whose lands today include the school, a ground-penetrating radar search at the Marieval school yielded 751 ′′hits,′′ indicating that at least 600 bodies were buried in the area after accounting for a margin of error in the search technique.
The search is ongoing, according to Delorme, and the numbers will be verified in the coming weeks.
He believes the gravesite contains both children and adults, as well as people
from outside the community who attended church there.
According to Delorme, the individual graves were once marked, but the markers were removed by the church at some point.
The remains of 215 children, some as young as three, were discovered buried last month near Kamloops, British Columbia, on the site of what was once Canada's largest Indigenous residential school.
The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, which operated 48 residential schools in Saskatchewan and British Columbia, including the ones where the bodies were discovered, said on Friday that they will release all historical documents they possess.
It stated in a statement that it has already worked to make the documents available through universities, archives, and a Truth and Reconciliation Commission
, but that the work is not yet finished due to provincial and national privacy laws.
In 2015, the National Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued a report that identified approximately 3,200 confirmed deaths at schools, but noted that nearly half of them did not have the cause of death recorded; many died of tuberculosis, an illness symptomatic of the deplorable living conditions.
In the United States
, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland
announced this week that the federal government will conduct an investigation
into its previous oversight of Native American
boarding schools in the country, reviewing records to identify past schools, locate burial sites, and discover the names and tribal affiliations of students.