- Pope Francis apologized Monday for abuses committed by Catholic school administrators at residential schools for Canada’s indigenous peoples.
- The trip was inspired by a 2021 discovery of 215 apparently unmarked graves outside a residential school. The graves have not yet been excavated and experts say they may not exist at all.
- Tom Flanagan, a professor at the University of Calgary, called the discovery “the biggest fake news story in Canadian history.”
Pope Francis apologized Monday to native Canadian tribes for alleged abuses, one stop in his visit to the country inspired by a discovery of alleged unmarked graves that one scholar called the “biggest fake news story” in Canadian history.
The Pope addressed a gathering of First Nations, Metis and Inuit people near the site of two former schools for indigenous peoples in Maskwacis where Catholic administrators allegedly abused children and left unmarked graves, Reuters reported. The visit was inspired by a 2021 discovery of 215 allegedly unmarked graves outside the Kamloops Indian Residential School, The Associated Press reported.
However, many experts have cast doubt on the story.
“The pope’s apology is based on false premises about missing children and unmarked graves,” Tom Flanagan, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Calgary, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
After the Kamloops burial site was identified, Canada’s indigenous services minister urged Pope Francis to issue a formal apology, according to the AP. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called for flags to be flown at half mast in honor of “215 children whose lives were taken at the Kamloops residential school,” even though no substantive evidence exists that lives were deliberately taken, according to researchers.
British Columbia First Nation Band Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc used ground-penetrating radar (GPR) to identify the existence of ground disturbances, the New York Post reported, and ascertained the total number based on irregularities in the wave pattern in “preliminary findings.”
Since the discovery, other supposed burial sites were identified using the same technology, including a purported grave containing 751 bodies at another school in Saskatchewan.
“This is the biggest fake news story in Canadian history,” Flanagan told The New York Post.
“No unmarked graves have been discovered at Kamloops or elsewhere,” Flanagan wrote. While GPR identified soil disturbances, authorities have not determined whether they represent human remains.
As of May 2022, no excavations have taken place at the burial site since the discovery and no remains have been unearthed, a spokesperson for Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc told the New York Post.
The discovery raised an international outcry and led Canada to sponsor a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, according to CBC, that identified between 2,800 and 4,200 allegedly missing children.
“To our knowledge, these missing children are undocumented deaths,” Rosanne Casimir, chief of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, said in a statement on May 27, 2021.
Neither are there thousands of missing children, Flanagan argued. Researchers at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy cross-referenced school registers with death certificates to identify 225 of the missing children, most of whom died in their native locations, and the researchers continue to work through available records.
Serious abuses may have occurred at residential schools, Jacques Rouillard, a professor emeritus in the Department of History at the Université de Montréal, told the New York Post. However, he doubted the extent of the claims regarding the Kamloops burial site.
“Not one body has been found,” said Rouillard. “After …months of recrimination and denunciation, where are the remains of the children buried at the Kamloops Indian Residential School?”
“This is NOT a mass grave. These are preliminary findings. We will be sharing the written report in the middle of the month.”
— Angela Sterritt (@AngelaSterritt) June 4, 2021
Pope Francis apologized for the ways “Christians supported the colonizing mentality of the powers that oppressed the indigenous peoples,” including setting up schools where Catholic teachers starved and abused more than 150,000 indigenous children who had been separated from their families.
As the Pope was speaking, indigenous leader Chief Wilton Littlechild greeted him and placed a native feather headdress on his head, Reuters reported. (RELATED: Pope Francis Says It Is ‘Incoherence’ That Biden Calls Himself Catholic And Supports Abortion)
Pope Francis appeared to hedge his statements regarding the existence of unmarked graves. He acknowledged cultural suppression and “physical, verbal, psychological and spiritual abuse” as well as how children were “taken away from their homes at a young age” but did not explicitly reference the alleged graves in the apology portion of his address.
“I believe the Pope is well aware of the rent-seeking angle and the games being played by activists. This is reflected in the carefully crafted statement that, on one hand apologizes for the very real harm caused by ‘so many Christians,’ but on the other, smartly ignores several of the points requested by activists,” True North author James Pew wrote.
The Vatican and Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.
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