Canada | Education | Opinion

Elizabeth Hawksworth: Church owes apology to Native people

Elizabeth Hawksworth. Photo from Facebook

Writer Elizabeth Hawksworth calls on Pope Francis to address the genocide of residential school era in Canada:
I’m a Chippewa woman from Toronto, Canada. I am the product of colonialism and misguided religion. I stand up now for the thousands of my brothers and sisters who were killed in the Canadian residential school genocide. I’m asking you to hear my plea.

Over 150,000 Native children were snatched from their homes and imprisoned in schools that were run by different religious groups. As you’re no doubt aware, one of those groups was the Catholic Church. I’m not certain of the reasons behind the genocide, besides what it looks like—an attempt to erase my people from existence. I’m certain there were other bureaucratic reasons, but those were lost in the abuse, tears, disease, and murder that spanned over 80 years. The last school was closed in 1996. The effects of what happened have echoed down the generations. They affect us daily. They will never be forgotten.

While some agree that apologies really only benefit the person doing the apologizing, I don’t think that’s all they benefit. Acknowledging wrongdoing is the first step towards being forgiven from sin, as I know you would agree with. I also know that forgiveness begins when two parties attempt to come together to address the hurt. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that we forget. Simply, it means that maybe the rough edges of the hurt are smoothed over time. Simply, it means that the sting and trauma can lessen with amends made by the offending parties.

I don’t know if I believe in God, Father. I was hurt long ago by the Church and it’s taking me awhile to get over it. But I will say this—those from the Church that have reached out to me to apologize have done so because they know it’s the right thing to do. We all have equal worth on this planet. In God’s eyes, we are all his children. The Archbishop of Ottawa believes that it’s too much to ask for you to apologize to my people, some of whom live in appalling conditions; some of whom are so hurt that they turn to drugs and alcohol to ease the pain.

Get the Story:
Elizabeth Hawksworth: Dear Pope Francis: A Plea From A Mixed Native Woman (Indian Country Today 6/23)

Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report:
Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future (June 2015)

Related Stories:
Thomas King: No justice for Native people with residential schools (06/11)
Mary Pember: A long journey to healing from residential schools (6/9)
Pamela Palmater: Genocide was outcome of residential schools (6/9)
Opinion: US and Canada hope Native people forget about genocide (6/8)
Mary Annette Pember: 'Cultural genocide' at residential schools (06/03)
Mary Annette Pember: Finding truth and reconciliation in Canada (6/2)
Michael Champagne: We are all victims of residential school era (6/2)

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