Canada’s Catholic bishops on Monday said they would give $30 million to help support survivors of the residential school system, a pledge the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) said it welcomed, albeit with “skepticism.”
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) said the funds will be doled out over five years. The move comes after the CCCB apologized to Indigenous people for the suffering endured in Canada’s residential schools, most of which were run by the Catholic Church.
“This effort will help support programs and initiatives dedicated to improving the lives of residential school survivors and their communities, ensuring resources needed to assist in the path of healing,” CCCB president Raymond Poisson said in a statement.
“The commitment will be achieved at the local level, with parishes across Canada being encouraged to participate and amplify the effort.”
AFN National Chief RoseAnne Archibald said in a statement the pledge was “long overdue.”
And, she added: “Due to previous financial promises by the church not being met, [I’m] sure the Bishops will understand First Nations skepticism and mistrust about their commitments.”
The church committed in 2005 to pay $25 million to residential school survivors under the landmark Indian Residential Schools Settlement. But documents recently obtained by CBC News showed much of the money was spent on lawyers, administration, a private fundraising company and unapproved loans.
WATCH | Millions for residential school survivors spent on lawyers, administration:
“We’re no longer accepting hollow apologies. Concrete actions and changed behaviour are essential as we walk the healing path forward,” Archibald said.
Action and dialogue over reconciliation have ramped up since the early spring after several Indigenous communities across Canada reported finding unmarked burial sites on or near the grounds of former residential schools. The CCCB said it would help locate more unmarked sites.
Archibald and other Indigenous leaders have called on Pope Francis to visit survivors and to apologize in person for the church’s role in running residential schools.
The CCCB said in June national Indigenous leaders will meet with the Pope at the Vatican in December. A delegation of First Nations, Métis and Inuit will meet with him separately between Dec. 17 and 20.