Pope Francis apologized last week for the Roman Catholic Church’s involvement in residential schools in front of nearly 200 people.

An Indigenous delegation made up of Indian Residential School survivors, leaders, knowledge keeps and youth travelled to the Vatican last week to have meetings with the Pope.

Kiiwetinoong MPP, Sol Mamakwa said in Question Period at Queens Park on Monday (April 5, 2022) that the apology was met with mixed feelings.

“Rage...sadness...hurt...relief, and beginnings of hope,” said Mamakwa. “We are still united in grief.”

He mentioned that the Pope committed to having plans to travel to Canada later this summer.

Mamakwa said along with an apology the delegation wanted the Pope to acknowledge the claims by the Roman Catholic Church of Indigenous land through the then Doctrine of Discovery.

The Doctrine of Discovery was the international law that gave license to explorers to claim vacant land in the name of their sovereign. Vacant land was that which was not populated by Christians.

If the lands were not occupied by Christians they were vacant therefore could be defined as “discovered" and sovereignty, dominion, title and jurisdiction claimed.

Mamakwa concluded in his statement that the Pope’s apology was only the first step in the 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.”

An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend residential schools and more than 60 per cent of the schools were run by the Catholic Church.

In Late May, the leadership of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation shocked the world with the announcement of the discovery of 215 unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School site, using ground-penetrating radar.

The story made headlines around the world. In Kenora, a memorial began with a number of pairs of children’s shoes, stuffed animals, and orange flowers in front of City Hall, with dozens of pairs of shoes lining the roundabout near the mall.

The federal government pledged more than $320 million to search residential school sites last year. Ontario has pledged another $20 million over a three-year span to identify, investigate and commemorate all 18 residential school burial sites across the province.

Locally, funding has been provided to First Nation communities to begin searching for unmarked graves.

In February, Grassy Narrows was granted $157,281 by the federal government to support the first phase of the First Nation’s work to find, commemorate and memorialize unmarked gravesites at the former school.

The Wauzhushk Onigum Nation received $2.9 million to assist in identifying burial sites related to the former St. Mary’s Indian Residential School. It was run by the Roman Catholic Church near the Devil’s Gap Marina until 1972. Records show at least 36 students died while attending the school.

As well, the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School in Kenora ran until 1976. The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation says at least 37 students passed away while attending the Presbyterian Church-ran school.

Nationally, Canada operated over 150 Indian Residential Schools for over 140 years. The last residential school in Canada, the Gordon Residential School in Saskatchewan, closed its doors in 1996.

As it stands, the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation has the names and records of 4,127 children who were lost through the residential school system. They say there are potentially thousands more, but they are in need of the outstanding records in the hands of the government.