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Why these survivors and advocates want more than an apology from the Pope

Residential school survivor Evelyn Korkmaz has yet to decide if she’ll attend any of the events planned during the visit by Pope Francis to Canada at the end of the month.

“If I do go, I would like to have a word with the Pope,” said Korkmaz, who is Cree from Fort Albany First Nation, on the west coast of James Bay.

The Pope will be in Canada from July 24 to 29 with stops in Edmonton, Quebec City and Iqaluit, and is expected to apologize in person for the Catholic Church’s role in the residential school system.

Korkmaz attended the notorious St. Anne’s residential school in Fort Albany between 1969 and 1972, and is a founding member of Advocates for Clergy Trauma Survivors in Canada. 

“We must respect all survivors. There are some survivors that need to hear the apology and want the Pope to come over but there’s some of us that want more than a forced apology,” she said.

“What is a forced apology going to accomplish? We want justice.”

For Korkmaz, that means accountability and action, such as the Catholic Church releasing all documents and records to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

She said papal bulls, or decrees from the Pope, that were released in the 1400s that enforced the Doctrine of Discovery — the legal and moral foundation for how Canada was colonized — also need to be rescinded. 

It’s a part of a wider scope of harm to Indigenous communities by the Catholic Church, beyond residential schools, that many feel need to be addressed.

Indian day school survivors left out

Claudette Commanda, an Anishinaabe (Algonquin) elder from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg in western Quebec, noted Indian day school survivors have been left out.

While separate from the residential school system, Indian or federal day schools were part of federal policy aimed at assimilating Indigenous children and often had religious affiliations.

The Roman Catholic Church operated the majority of the nearly 700 schools.

A woman speaks at a microphone.
Kitigan Zibi Anishinābeg’s Claudette Commanda speaks at a community celebration of National Indigenous Peoples Day at Mādahòkì Farm west of downtown Ottawa June 21. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

“Day school survivors need to be acknowledged as well,” said Commanda, who is a board member of the McLean Day Schools Settlement Corporation Legacy Fund.

“It was the same system that ran these schools and that abused children.”

Like, Korkmaz, Commanda wants to hear more than “just words.”

“With a genuine apology, you have to acknowledge the wrong and the harm you’ve done, then you apologize, and then you do actions. But, are they willing?” she said.

“Liability, accountability, and responsibility, all go hand-in-hand.”

Support needed for survivors

Bruce Allan, a member of the Stellat’en First Nation in B.C., is a survivor of the Lejac Indian Residential School.

He said he hopes the papal visit and an in-person apology will bring more transparency from the church.

“If they truly want to help with healing with survivors, they have to take responsibility. They have to be accountable,” said Allan.

why these survivors and advocates want more than an apology from the pope 1
Bruce Allan is a member of the Stellat’en First Nation and works as a regional health support worker at the Indian Residential School Survivors’ Society in Prince George, B.C. (Submitted by Bruce Allan)

Through his job as a regional health support worker with the Indian Residential School Survivors’ Society in Prince George, B.C., Allan has spoken to many survivors about the upcoming papal visit.

He said there’s a wide range of feelings from anger to sadness, and joy — but regardless of how survivors feel, support will be needed leading up to, during, and after the events. 

“The Pope’s visit will cause a lot of triggers,” he said.

“You just have to mention the name of the school or you just have to say residential school and that’s enough to trigger them right back to hard memories.”

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for residential school survivors and others affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

Support is also available for anyone affected by their experience at Indian or federal day schools. Individuals can access immediate mental health counselling and crisis intervention services at the Hope for Wellness helpline by calling 1-855-242-3310 or online at

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