Native Canadians want apology from pope for abuse

Ottawa, Canada - A Canadian organization of native peoples headed to Rome next week for an audience with Pope Benedict XVI is asking the Vatican for an apology for its role in inflicting harmful schooling on native children. In a statement on its website on Saturday, the Assembly of First Nations pointed out that the Catholic church, which operated about 75 per cent of the Indian residential schools in Canada, is the only church involved in the system that has not yet apologized.

"It is my fervent hope that this Papal Audience will result in a statement from Pope Benedict XVI to all the survivors of the Indian residential schools for the role that the Catholic Church played in the administration and operation of the schools and the harms these schools inflicted on our people," assembly Chief Phil Fontaine said.

"This will greatly assist the task of healing and reconciliation for survivors, Catholics and all Canadians."

A delegation is to meet with the pope on Wednesday.

Well into the 1980s, the Canadian government took children of its native peoples from their families to study at boarding schools as part of a forced assimilation.

The children, mainly of the Inuit and Cree, were not allowed to speak their native tongues nor keep the rites and traditions of their tribes. Many were abused sexually or beaten. The schooling was paid for by the state, but operated by churches.

The Canadian government has compensated its natives peoples with more than 1 billion dollars for the psychic and sexual abuse the children suffered in the schools, an an attempt to close one of its darkest chapters of history.

Experts blame widespread alcoholism, violence and incest among Canada's native peoples to the loss of family and traditions suffered by its children for generations in the boarding schools.