Pope says bid to erase Indigenous culture in Canada ‘was cultural genocide’

Pope Francis has agreed that the attempt to eliminate Indigenous culture in Canada through a church-run residential school system amounted to a cultural “genocide”.

Speaking to reporters while en route home from Canada, Francis said he did not use the term during his trip to atone for the Catholic Church’s role in the schools because it never came to mind.

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission determined in 2015 that the forced removal of Indigenous children from their homes and placement in residential schools to assimilate them constituted a “cultural genocide”.

Pope Francis meets young people and elders at Nakasuk Elementary School Square in Iqaluit (Gregorio Borgia/AP)

Some 150,000 children from the late 1800s to the 1970s were subject to the forced assimilation policy, aimed at making them fully Christian and Canadian.

Physical and sexual abuse were rampant at the schools, and children were beaten for speaking their Native languages.

“It’s true I didn’t use the word because it didn’t come to mind, but I described genocide, no?” Francis said. “I apologized, I asked forgiveness for this work, which was genocide.”

Pope Francis speaks to journalists on board the papal flight back from Canada (Guglielmo Mangiapane/ Pool via AP)

Francis said he repeatedly condemned the system that severed family ties and attempted to impose new cultural beliefs as “catastrophic” to generations of Indigenous peoples.

In the main apology of his Canada trip, delivered on Monday, Francis spoke of “cultural destruction” but he did not use the term “cultural genocide” as some school survivors had hoped and expected.

“It’s a technical word, ‘genocide’. I didn’t use it because it didn’t come to mind, but I described that, and it’s true it’s a genocide,” he said Saturday.

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