On July 25th, 2022, pope Francis apologized Canada's Indigenous peoples on their land for the Church's role in residential schools where Indigenous children were starved, beaten for speaking their Indigenous languages, violently and sexually abused, endured various forms of forced cultural assimilation such as mandatory Christianization, plus more in what Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission called cultural genocide.
The address to the First Nations, Metis and Inuit people was the first apology on Canadian soil by the pope as a part of tour to heal deep wounds that rose to the fore after the discovery of unmarked graves at residential schools last year. It is estimated that between 1881 and 1996 more than 150,000 Indigenous children were separated from their families and brought to residential schools that were sanctioned by the Canadian government and operated by various Christian missionaries.
In the United States, Native American nations, communities, and families endure a similar fate as Indigenous peoples in Canada. Beginning with the Indian Civilization Act Fund of March 3, 1819, and the Peace Policy of 1869, and with the urging of several denominations of the Christian Church, the U.S. government adopted an Indian Boarding School Policy intended to implement cultural genocide against all Indigenous peoples. Between 1869 and the 1960s, hundreds of thousands of Native American children were forcefully removed from their homes and families and placed in boarding schools operated by the federal government and the churches. And, by 1926, nearly 83% of Indian school-age children were attending boarding schools.
There has been a lot of discussions and reactions to the pope's apology, but what does the pope's apology mean for Indigenous peoples and for California Indigenous peoples? What is the Vatican's role in the creation of the Mission System? Will the Vatican do more besides apologize, ask for forgiveness, or will there be substantial actions holding the Vatican accountable for its violent colonial legacy of cultural genocide still impacting Indigenous peoples today? Tune for an in-depth interview regarding a California Indigenous perspective on pope Francis recent apology.
Dr. Dena Dart, Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation, is the former curator of the Native American Collection at Portland Art Museum, and the founder of Live Oak Museum Consulting in Eugene, Oregon, an organization committed to reshaping museum narratives and assisting institutions in their efforts to be more accountable and responsive to Native communities.