Thousands of Indigenous people are expected to converge Monday on the small Alberta prairie community of Maskwacis to hear a long-awaited apology from Pope Francis for generations of abuse and cultural suppression at Catholic residential schools across Canada.
Francis is scheduled to arrive in mid-morning at the site of the former Ermineskin Indian Residential School, now largely torn down. He will pause at the sites of the former educational institute and nearby cemetery before speaking in a large open area to school survivors as well as their relatives.
Francis arrived Sunday in Edmonton, where he was received by representatives of Canada’s three main Indigenous groups — First Nations, Metis and Inuit — along with political and church dignitaries. The pope spent the rest of the day resting at a seminary in the provincial capital.
Canadian government has admitted that physical and sexual abuse were rampant in the state-funded Christian schools that operated from the 19th century to the 1970s. Some 150,000 Indigenous children were dragged out from their homes and forced to attend in an effort to isolate them from the influence of their families, native languages and cultures and assimilate them into Canada’s Christian society.
Francis’ six-day trip — which will also include other sites in Alberta, Quebec City and Iqaluit, Nunavut, in the far north — 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 done by some Catholic missionaries in residential schools.
Thousands of children died from disease, fire and other causes at that time. The discoveries of hundreds of potential burial sites at former schools in the past year has drawn international attention to the legacy of the schools in Canada and their counterparts in the United States.
Francis is now following through on a commitment to make that apology on Canadian soil.
Maskwacis, about an hour south of Edmonton, is the hub of four Cree nations.