The pope said he was sorry. So what is the next step for reconciliation?


WARNING: This story contains disturbing details

The Pope’s visit to Canada and his apology for the role of many Church members in Canada’s residential school system sparked intense discussion about the scope of this apology, its impact on Indigenous peoples, and the question: what should be the next priority in the truth and reconciliation agenda? Committee 94 calls to action?

An apology from the pope was called 58 by the TRC. But many felt that what was said this week did not go far enough, and one of those people is Murray Sinclair, the former chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

In a conversation between Sinclair and his son, Niigaan Sinclair, guest host of a special CBC Radio episode The Housethe former judge and senator said the apology did not go far enough in acknowledging the Church’s role in residential schools, including “the fact that she practiced her faith and doctrines in a way that undermined the very existence of indigenous peoples”.

On a special episode of CBC Radio’s The House, guest host Niigaan Sinclair had a chat with his father, former Truth and Reconciliation Commission Chairman Murray Sinclair, pictured, about the Pope’s visit to Canada. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

“The pope’s apology, good as it is – and I want to acknowledge that it has come a long way… But the pope’s apology has not taken into account that the church itself does not probably failed to live up to its own doctrines of respect, kindness and love when it came to supporting the treatment and encouraging the mistreatment of Indigenous people, not just here in Canada, but everywhere around the world,” Murray Sinclair said.

LISTEN | Find out what Murray Sinclair, former president of the TRC, thinks of the pope’s apology:

CBC News: The House14:47Did the pope’s apology go far enough?

To kick off a special episode of The House, guest host Niigaan Sinclair has a chat with his father, Murray Sinclair, about what the former judge, senator and TRC chairman thinks of the Pope’s visit to Canada this week.

Pope Francis said this week that he apologized for “the evil committed by so many Christians against indigenous peoples”.

On his flight from Canada on Saturday, the pope said what happened at the residential schools qualified as genocide.

The TRC’s final report called what happened “cultural genocide,” although some have argued that the discovery of unmarked graves at boarding schools means it goes beyond that term.

Murray Sinclair said this week has been an important time for reconciliation because of the attention it has received from the general Canadian public.

Many calls to action remain

The pope’s call for an apology is just one of 94 calls to action made by the TRC in 2015. Prior to this week, only 11 calls had been answered according to Eva Jewell, research director of the Yellowhead Institute, a Indigenous- ran a research and teaching center at Metropolitan University of Toronto.

Jewell said that instead of just educating Canadians, more attention needs to be paid to calls for action to address the inequities faced by Indigenous peoples in Canada on issues such as child welfare. , language and culture, education, health and justice.

“These are areas where there needs to be significant movement, in order to impact the quality of life of Indigenous peoples and bring us to a point of equity with Canadians, which I believe is is the bare minimum for reconciliation.”

AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde speaks at a press conference on the tabling of Bill C-92, an Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Indigenous children, youth and families. Métis, under the gaze of the Métis National Council Clément Chartier, on the right, in Ottawa in February 2019. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Child protection

On the issue of child welfare, which constitutes the top five calls to action, Raven Sinclair, a professor at the University of Regina and herself a Sixties Scoop survivor, said The Accommodation she is optimistic about the progress being made.

She said that despite the entrenched nature of the child welfare system, the combination of funding and Bill C-92adopted in 2019 and giving First Nations jurisdiction over child and family services, would allow them to do “incredible things”.

“The powers that be really need to understand that we know what we’re doing, we know how to do it,” she said.


John Borrows, Loveland Chair in Indigenous Law at the University of Toronto, said responding to the 18 justice-related calls to action is difficult.

He noted two divisions: an overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the justice system and a lack of respect for Indigenous principles of justice.

He said a multi-faceted approach was needed to address the challenges, but Indigenous justice systems themselves also needed special attention.

“If we don’t revitalize Indigenous justice and law systems, then it will be impossible to integrate these issues into the larger system,” he said.

Health care

Health care is also at the center of the TRC’s calls to action, and Norma Rabbitskin said The House on the importance of Call 22, which promotes respect for Indigenous healing practices.

For Rabbitskin, a nurse, the value of that call was clear in the calm and gentleness these traditions brought to the birth of her grandson earlier this year – the first traditional Aboriginal birth in decades to take place in the Sturgeon Lake First Nation, located just north of Prince Albert, Sask.

“What was really liberating was the opportunity to bring our medicine, our chanting, our pipe ceremony to welcome, and also to light that fire, to guide the little spirit back to our Mother Earth,” she said.

Kindness, respect needed to move forward, says Sinclair

Murray Sinclair said that to meet the challenges presented by calls to action on child welfare, education, justice, health care and more, it was important that Canadians engage in the process.

“People who weren’t alive at the time cannot be held responsible because something bad happened long before they got here,” he said. “They may not be responsible for the past, but they are certainly responsible for the future.”

Pope Francis wears a traditional native headdress.
Pope Francis wears a headdress presented to him by Wilton Littlechild, Honorary Chief of the Ermineskin First Nation, after the pontiff’s apology to Indigenous peoples Monday, July 25, 2022, in Maskwacis, Alta. (Eric Gay/Associated Press)

He also spoke about the much-discussed moment this week when Wilton Littlechild, Honorary Chief of the Ermineskin First Nation, presented the pontiff with a headdress.

Some First Nations people in Manitoba have criticized this decision. But Murray Sinclair argued it was a symbol of the kind of awareness most needed, calling it “an act of incredible kindness, charity, love and respect”.

The gesture was an indication that “now is the time for us to start treating each other differently,” he said.

“And we need to treat each other with more kindness and respect than in the past.”

Support is available to anyone affected by their residential school experience or recent reports.

A National Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line has been established to provide support to former students and those affected. People can access emotional referral and crisis services by calling the 24-hour National Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419.

Mental health counseling and crisis support is also available 24/7 through the Hope for Wellness Helpline at 1-855-242-3310 or by online chat at


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