(CelebrityAccess) — With Pope Francis announcing plans to visit Canada to issue a formal apology for the Roman Catholic church’s role in Canada’s historical residential school system, Canadian folk legend and longtime human rights activist Buffy Sainte-Marie said an apology won’t be enough without real change.
Canada’s residential school system was a network of boarding schools for indigenous children that was funded by the Canadian government’s Department of Indian Affairs and overseen on their behalf by representatives from the Catholic Church.
Attendance at the schools was mandatory between 1894 to 1947 in an effort to isolate indigenous children from their birth culture in order to more effectively assimilate them into the dominant Euro-Canadian culture of the era.
The school program once again came to the fore in Canada in 2021 when thousands of unmarked graves were discovered on the grounds of former residential schools. While the actual number of deaths in the school system is unlikely to be known due to incomplete records, it is estimated that between 3,000 and 30,000 children died while institutionalized in the program across Canada.
In an interview with The National’s Adrienne Arsenault, Sainte-Marie called on the Pope to reconsider the Church’s longstanding doctrine that she maintains still has an impact on legal proceedings and people’s lives today.
“I think if we have a chance to make things better, he could really be a part of it and be an inspiration to a lot of people,” Sainte-Marie told Arsenault.
The Doctrine of Discovery was initially established through a series of decrees, known as Papal Bulls, during the 15th and 16th century that created a doctrinal framework for European countries to colonize the Americas and other parts of the world.
It’s this doctrine that Sainte-Marie is calling for the Pope to dissolve.
“What’s really key to the Pope and the slaughter of the Indigenous millions over the last 500 years. What’s behind it and what made generations before the Pope think that was okay was the Doctrine of Discovery,” she continued. “The Doctrine of Discovery essentially says for a white guy, holding something that means Christianity, you can go anywhere in the world and either convert people and enslave them, or you gotta kill them.”
While the Doctrine may seem like a historical footnote, Indigenous people, including the Assembly of First Nations, have noted that the it serves as the basis for numerous historical and ongoing injustices.
The pope is scheduled to arrive on July 24 in Alberta, the Canadian province with the largest number of former residential schools once operated. According to an itinerary released by the Vatican on Thursday, the Pope plans to issue a formal apology from Edmonton and will hold a mass at Edmonton’s Canadian Football League stadium on July 26th.
Watch Buffy Sainte-Marie’s interview with The National here.