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LIVE IN MASKWACIS: Pope Francis apologizes, asks for forgiveness for residential school abuse

Residential school survivors and their families are in Maskwacis

UPDATE: 9:00 p.m. (MT):

Following the Pope’s departure in Maskwacis a press conference was held in the current Ermineskin School where the Chiefs of the Maskwacis Four Nations, Chiefs from visiting nations including Frog Lake and Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation, Grand Chief of the Confederacy of Treaty 6 George Arcand Jr., and Elders and survivors spoke on the impact of residential schools on their community and the significance of this visit by the Pope.

Black Press also spoke with NDP members of Parliament in attendance at the event, including Nunavut MP Lori Idlout, Edmonton-Greisbach MP Blake Dejarlais—Alberta’s only Indigenous MP, and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh before the press conference and they expressed gratitude for being able to attend an event of this magnitude.

Idlout said that the biggest moment for her was when the Pope, via his translator, instructed the church to work for reconciliation with all Indigenous peoples across Canada.

“When he acknowledged all the pain and sufferings that were caused by the Christian faith and then he sincerely apologized. But this wasn’t just an apology for him, he wants to make sure that we move forward together,” she said.

Desjarlais said having this event in Maskwacis is significant given that Alberta has the most residential school and survivors of any provinces in Canada. He states the importance of the Pope reaffirming that the horrors of residential schools were real, especially when some Canadians still deny the history.

“The very top of this institution has admitted that for Christians, Catholics and Canadians everywhere this is something that has happened,” he said.

“Today was big because it tells everyone that from the other side of it that the Pope admits that this is in fact an atrocity that has happened.”

UPDATE: 11:50 a.m. (MT):

Following his speech, Pope Francis accepts an Indigenous headdress from Chief Wilton Littlechild, a former Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner, which he temporarily wears in front of the crowd.

Traditional Indigenous singer Gerry Saddleback sings an emotional national anthem in Cree.

UPDATE: 11 a.m. (MT):

Following a welcome of a grand entry by chiefs representing Louis Bull Tribe, Samson Cree Nation, Montana First Nation and Ermineskin First Nation, Pope Francis speaks to those in attendance.

Francis, speaking in spanish, tells the crowd: “I am sorry,” and asks for forgiveness for the “cultural destruction and forced assimilation” at residential schools.

“I am deeply sorry,” he told the crowd. “Sorry for the ways many Christians supported the colonizing mentality of the powers that oppressed Indigenous peoples. I am sorry. I ask forgiveness.”

He also says he will be returning moccasins he received when the delegation of Indigenous survivors and Elders visited the Vatican in April.


Pope Francis has arrived in Maskwacis in Alberta in what he has described as a “penitential pilgrimage” in the wake of a reckoning of the abuse faced by Indigenous children at Catholic-run residential schools in the country.

This marks his first visit to Canada, and is part of a six-day itinerary stretching from Edmonton to Quebec City to Iqaluit.

Thousands of survivors and their families have gathered for the day-long event, as well as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Governor General Mary Simon and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.

Pope Francis landed in Alberta mid-morning Sunday (July 24). On Monday morning, he travelled south of Edmonton to Ermineskin Cree Nation Cemetery, as well as the site of the former Ermineskin Indian Residential School.

He is expected to speak at about 10:30 a.m. MST.

WATCH: Pope Francis arrives in Alberta

Through the day, he will be meeting with survivors in Maskwacis, formerly called Hobbema, at Muskwa Park. An estimated 6,000 people, including Elders and Knowledge Keepers, will be in attendance.

Organizers have said there is a possibility he will make a “Giro” through the crowd, which is when he tours among the people through the park. For this event, the Popemobile is a 2015 Jeep Wrangler and is always driven by a member of the Vatican security team.

Pope’s visit follows calls to deliver apology on Canadian soil

The Canadian government has admitted that physical and sexual abuse were rampant in the government-funded Christian schools that operated from the 19th century to the 1970s. Some 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families and forced to attend in an effort to isolate them from the influence of their homes, Native languages and cultures and assimilate them into Canada’s Christian society.

Catholic religious orders operated 66 of Canada’s 139 residential schools, where thousands of children died from disease, fire and other causes.

Francis’ trip follows meetings he held in the spring at the Vatican with delegations from the First Nations, Metis and Inuit. Those meetings culminated with a historic April 1 apology for the “deplorable” abuses committed by some Catholic missionaries in residential schools.

He will not be visiting Kamloops, B.C., where Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation surveyed the gounds at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School and uncovered what is believed to the remains of 215 children. This discovery triggered a number of other site searches across the country.

More to come

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