Indianz.Com > News > Doug George-Kanentiio: Residential school survivors reject Pope Francis’ apology
Vatican News Video: Pope Francis apologizes for Catholic Church’s role at Native residential schools
Why I Turned Down a Private Session with the Pope
Monday, August 8, 2022

On July 29 a select group of 22 Residential School Survivors were asked to attend a private meeting with Pope Francis at Quebec City, part of his national apology tour. I was, as a former student at the Mohawk Institute in Brantford, Ontario, selected as one of those presenters but although honored by the request had to turn it down.

I dod so because I was given but 60 seconds to speak to the Pope followed by a photo with him. There was no way I could summarize our concerns and why we, as Mohawks, have rejected his apology.

We have done so because the Roman Catholic Church has not been cooperative in releasing the records of the children assigned to the institutions administered to by the Church. Without those documents there is no way we can answer the fundamental questions as to how many children were taken, where they were confined to, what happened to them and where are they know.

No Native entity knows the answers and to truly heal we need our children returned to our homes.

We also refused the apology as it did not acknowledge criminal acts were committed from food depravation to murder. The remains of the lost children will tell us more but those who were the abusers were employed by the Church; it was not simply wayward individuals but institutional.

We said no to the apology because it did not offer equitable restitution nor provided a formula as to how we can work with the Church to realize actual truth and reconciliation based upon the wishes of the survivors. There was no acknowledgement that in every instance the survivors must be consulted and have the authority to oversee any and all programs directed towards this issue.

I could not present, within my allotted minute, our ideas concrete and applicable, about how we may truly heal on our terms.

I could not summarize the broad, tragic and permanent effects the taking of the children has had on my home community of Akwesasne: loss of language, cultural disruption, fractures within families and breach of connection with our ancestral lands.

It was impossible for me to say in that one minute how I was taken with the cooperation of the local band council, the Indian Agent, social worker and RCMP officer. Within that minute I would have failed to address the feelings of abandonment and despair, of emotional and spiritual desperation all of us endured at the Institute.

I did learn later the Pope called what happened to us as genocide, a word with powerful legal implications. But he did not say the Church committed genocide not did he reject the Doctrine of Discovery which was the basis upon which we were kidnapped and continues to be the rock upon which all “Indian” law is based-from the first encounters to the present.

I did not want to take part in what I perceived as a public relations event in which the Mohawks might be perceived as compliant. We will never be that.

In June of 1968 all of the Mohawk boys at the Institute were formally expelled-the first time for a single group in Residential School history. I am proud of that just as I am proud that our people reject any apology, and action, without justice.

Doug George-Kanentiio, Akwesasne Mohawk, is a residential school survivor. He was given the number 4-8-2-738. He serves as the vice-president of the Hiawatha Institute for Indigenous Knowledge. He previously served as a Trustee for the National Museum of the American Indian, is a former land claims negotiator for the Mohawk Nation and is the author of numerous books and articles about the Mohawk people. He may be reached via e-mail at: or by calling 315-415-7288.

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