CANADA Pope says genocide occurred at Canada's boarding schools for...

Pope says genocide occurred at Canada’s boarding schools for indigenous children


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Pope Francis held a press conference on his flight from Iqaluit to Rome on Friday after a six-day trip to Canada, when he apologized for the wrongdoings of “many church members.” (Ka’nhehsi:io Deer/CBC)

WARNING: This story contains embarrassing details

Although the word “genocide” did not appear in any of Pope Francis’ addresses during his week-long trip to Canada, on his flight back to Rome, he said that everything he described about the boarding school system and its forced assimilation of indigenous children, tantamount to genocide. .

“I didn’t use the word ‘genocide’ because it didn’t come to my mind, but I described genocide,” Pope Francis told reporters during the pope’s flight from Iqaluit to Rome on Friday.

Last week, the Pope visited Edmonton, Quebec City and Iqaluit as part of a “penitent pilgrimage” of healing, reconciliation and hope between the Catholic Church and indigenous peoples.

Addressing boarding school survivors and their families in Masquatsis, Alta, Francis expressed his deep sorrow for the harm done to church schools and asked for forgiveness “for the evil done by so many Christians to the indigenous peoples.”

The Catholic Church operated over half of the boarding schools in Canada. Over 150,000 First Nations, Mestizo and Inuit children were forced to attend publicly funded schools between the 1870s and 1997.

A man holds a protest sign during a public event honoring Pope Francis in the square in front of Nakasuk Elementary School in Iqaluit on Friday. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which released its final report in 2015, concluded that the school system constituted cultural genocide.

Since 2021, when the news broke about the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves on the territory of former boarding schools, many have called what happened more than just a cultural genocide. Last year, NDP MP Lia Ghazan filed a failed bid to have the boarding school experience genocide recognized by parliament because she believes it fits the United Nations definition of genocide.

The United Nations defines the term as a series of acts done with the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national ethnic, racial or religious group”, such as killing members, causing bodily or mental harm to members, deliberate physical destruction in whole or in part, imposing measures aimed at preventing births within a group, or the forced transfer of children from a group to another group.

The National Center for Truth and Reconciliation in Winnipeg, which holds records collected by the TRC, documented 4,118 children who died in boarding schools.

In his numerous speeches throughout the week, Pope Francis described the school system as an assimilation and enfranchisement policy that harms families by undermining their language, culture and world view.

“I condemned it by taking away children, changing culture, consciousness, traditions, the so-called race.
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A whole culture,” Pope Francis told reporters.

“Yes, this is a technical word, genocide. I didn’t use it because it didn’t occur to me. But yes, I described it. Yes, it’s genocide.”

Repeal of the Doctrine of Discovery

Indigenous peoples from coast to coast are calling for the abolition of the papal bulls that constitute the doctrine of discovery.

The calls grew louder at each stop of the papal visit, with arguments being made that papal bulls or edicts were the root cause of the genocide of indigenous peoples and laid the groundwork for Canada to adopt assimilation policies such as the boarding school system.

Protesters hold a banner before a church mass.

This photo, taken just minutes before Mass at Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré Basilica, shows two people holding a banner that reads “Abolish Doctrine” in reference to the Doctrine of Discovery. (Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters)

When asked about issuing a statement on the Doctrine of Discovery, Francis did not answer the question directly, but referred to it as a doctrine of colonization.

“It’s true, it’s bad. It’s not fair. Even today it is used,” he said. “This mentality that we are better and indigenous peoples doesn’t count, so we have to work on… what was done badly, but with the knowledge that even today there is the same colonialism.”

Support is available to anyone who has been affected by their boarding school experience or recent reports.

A national crisis line for Indian boarding schools has been set up to provide support to former students and victims. People can access emotional and crisis help services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.
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Mental health counseling and crisis support is also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the Hope for Wellness hotline at 1-855-242-3310 or online chat at

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