If you are a residential school survivor, you are able to contact the 24-hour National Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419 for support. Indigenous people can also access the Hope for Wellness Help Line at 1-855-242-3310 or online chat at www.hopeforwellness.ca.

Leadership of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation says the Roman Catholic Church needs to develop a plan to address the harm done to survivors of the Indian Residential School System, after this month’s apology from the Pope.

On April 1, Pope Francis apologized to a delegation of nearly 200 First Nations, Inuit and Metis leaders for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the Indian Residential School system, saying he felt ‘sorrow and shame’ for the role that Catholics have played in the abuses that Indigenous people have suffered.

“Great harm was done to your identity and your culture,” said Pope Francis after his week-long visit with Canadian delegates at the Vatican City, noting he now plans to visit Canada.

“Many families were separated and great numbers of children fell victim to these attempts to impose a uniformity based on the notion that progress occurs through ideological colonization, following programs devised in offices, rather than the desire to respect the life of peoples. This is something that, unfortunately, and at various levels, still happens today.”

Indigenous leaders had been calling for an apology from the church for decades. A Papal apology is one of the 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Final Report of 2015.

“Our hearts are with survivors, their families, communities and all the children who never made it home,” said NAN’s Deputy Grand Chief, Anna Betty Achneepineskum, in a prepared statement on behalf of NAN’s Executive Council.

“I am encouraged that Pope Francis is finally confronting the suffering inflicted on our people through the Residential School system and accepted his responsibility to apologize on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church.”

“Many survivors have waited for decades for these words, and we pray for those who did not live long enough to hear them. We hope these words are followed by action, including a continuation of healing initiatives and activities for survivors and their descendants,” she adds.

Achneepineskum notes NAN previously supported a motion by MP Romeo Saganash in 2018 for Canadian Catholic bishops to request an apology from the Pope and to fulfill the church’s financial obligations to raise $25 million for Indigenous healing under the $1.9 billion Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement of 2006, which still hasn’t been fulfilled.

But calls for an apology intensified after Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation’s shocking discovery of 215 unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School site last year, prompting communities across Canada to begin searching their own grounds.

Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa says the apology was met with mixed feelings as he wanted the Pope to acknowledge the church stealing Indigenous-owned land, but noted it was a strong first step in a long line of action that must be taken.

“We stand in unity with survivors, their families, and all our nations affected by the inter-generational trauma that was done to us by the Catholic Church and other churches. Going forward we can do better, and must do better,” said Mamakwa, at Queen’s Park.

Nation-wide, the federal government operated Indian Residential Schools for over 140 years, stripping roughly 150,000 Indigenous children of their culture and subjecting an estimated 38,000 children to serious physical and sexual abuse during their time through the system.

The Roman Catholic Church was responsible for running roughly 75 per cent of Canada’s 139 residential schools.

Canada’s National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation says their records show at least 4,127 children were lost through the residential school system as of the end of 2021, prior to them receiving additional outstanding records from the federal government.

Ottawa has since pledged more than $326 million to search residential school sites. Ontario has also pledged $20 million over a three-year span to identify, investigate and commemorate all 18 residential school burial sites across the province.