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While Justin Trudeau was across the pond for the G7 summit in Sicily last week, he paid a little visit to the Big Guy at the Vatican. No, not God, the Pope. While it may not look like the Pope was happy to see him (he took another hilariously gloomy photo), Trudeau seemed to feel they had a great and productive conversation.

They talked about the importance of global leaders addressing climate change from both a scientific and ethical point of view, some personal Trudeau life stuff and most notably, reconciliation. Trudeau asked the Pope to issue an apology to the Indigenous peoples of Canada for the cultural genocide of residential schools. Yeah, that one was a big deal.


The 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Report (TRR) outlined 94 calls to action that should be pursued in order to close the gap between Indigenous Canadians and the rest of Canada. One of those items was for the Prime Minister to request that the Pope, as head of the Roman Catholic Church, issue a formal apology to the Indigenous population of Canada.

We’ll give a bit of backstory in case you’re a little fuzzy on your Canadian history. In the late 1800’s, Europe was on quite the global rampage, colonizing foreign lands, exporting those resources and inundating the locals with European culture. If that sounds bad to you, that’s because it was. One of the big things in Canada was the residential schools where Native children were sent to learn English and basically be taught that their culture was wrong.

About 30 percent of First Nations, Metis and Inuit children (150,000 of them) were taken far from their parents to learn the ways of the white man. This amounted to a ‘cultural genocide’ where an entire generation and their descendants lost out on their people’s languages, traditions and culture. Though these schools were government funded for close to a century (yeah, that’s right), many were run by the Catholic Church.

The TRR’s call to apologize asks that the Church, specifically the Pope, give a formal apology in Canada to the survivors and their descendants for the Church’s “role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical and sexual abuse” of Indigenous children during that time. Apologies have been issued in the past, but the Truth and Reconciliation Committee highlights the importance of this coming from the highest leader in the Catholic Church.

‘I told him how important it is for Canadians to move forward on real reconciliation with the indigenous peoples and highlighted how he could help by issuing an apology,’ Trudeau said after his meeting with the Pope, ‘I invited him to come to Canada in the coming years.’

So, what did he say?

‘He reminded me that his entire life has been dedicated to supporting marginalized people in the world, fighting for them, and that he looks forward to working with me and with the Canadian bishops to figure out a path forward together,’ Trudeau told the media.

While that isn’t a definitive answer (most apologies take time), activists back in Canada are optimistic about the Pope’s response. He talked recently about the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the need for Indigenous peoples to be in control of their own land.

While this may seem like a gigantic step forward, it’s a tentative one. Reconciliation is not a process that happens over night. It happens slowly and is met with resistance along the way. We still need to keep in mind the Indigenous issues that are still very real today such as murdered and missing Indigenous women, high suicide rates on reserves, endangered native languages and a general lack of representation.

Trudeau and his government have made promising progress since the establishment of the National Council on Reconciliation, but we as a country have to work towards fulfilling those TRR calls to action and rebuilding a crucial part of Canada’s history, culture and population.