Union of Ontario Indians
NIPISSING FIRST NATION (April 29, 2009) - Grand Council Chief John Beaucage is congratulating National Chief Phil Fontaine for "closing the book" on the issue of apologies for residential school survivors.
Beaucage said the "expression of sorrow" issued Wednesday at the Vatican by Pope Benedict XVI to an Assembly of First Nations delegation marked the culmination of Fontaine's persistent efforts to gain recognition of the abuses suffered by over 100,000 First Nation students forced to attend 130 church-run residential schools. Other Christian denominations implicated in abuse at the government-sanctioned schools have already apologized for their roles - the Anglican Church in 1993, the Presbyterian Church in 1994 and the United Church in 1998. Last June Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued an apology on behalf of the government of Canada
"Phil has left an historic legacy in making Canadians aware of the horrible impact residential schools have had on First Nations communities," said Beaucage, a candidate to replace Fontaine during the leadership selection process at July's annual general assembly of the Assembly of First Nations in Calgary. "His persistent efforts will serve as an important building block for the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission."
Following the AFN delegation's private audience with Benedict, the Vatican issued a statement offering the Pope's "sympathy and prayerful solidarity" to those whose anguish was caused by members of the Roman Catholic Church. It described the treatment of residential school students as "deplorable", adding that "acts of abuse cannot be tolerated in society".
National Chief Fontaine, himself a residential school survivor, said the Pope's expression of regret would "close the book" on the apology issue.
The Anishinabek Nation established the Union of Ontario Indians as its political advocate and secretariat in 1949. The Union of Ontario Indians is the oldest political organization in Ontario and can trace its roots back to the Confederacy of Three Fires that have existed long before European contact.