Kathryn Guimaraes, 75, who was also a guest at the reception, was born an Anishinaabe Indian, a tribe that she said was renamed Chippewa at government behest. When her brother was born in 1934, she recalled, the Lutheran church in the small town where they lived refused to baptize him, telling her mother, “Indians don’t have souls.” When he died of an infection at 18 months, he could not be buried in a Christian cemetery because he had not been baptized. He was buried alongside the railroad tracks, she said.
Guimaraes also had bitter memories of what she said her father had gone through, forced to give up his native language or face severe punishment.
She says Native Americans are owed an apology for the abuses they have suffered. She noted that the late Pope John Paul II urged everyone to apologize. “But I don’t think the Roman Catholic Church has. I don’t think the other churches have.”
According to the Smithsonian’s Her Many Horses, after Indians were forced onto reservations, the different Christian denominations were given permission to set up mission schools, usually one denomination per reservation.
“As in any boarding school, there was harsh treatment, physical abuses but also some benefits,” he said. “It depends on whom you talk to.” In hindsight, “it seems absolutely appalling that it was the standard at the time to Christianize what were believed to be pagan Indians, to force one’s belief onto another race.”
Paysse said that some individual bishops had made statements acknowledging past abuses, but “nothing has been done officially” by the conference of bishops.
By contrast, in Canada, all the major Christian denominations have issued a joint apology. The Canadian government set up a royal commission to investigate abuses, and the government formally apologized in Parliament to leaders of the First Nations, as Canada calls its Native Americans. It set up a compensation fund and created a truth and reconciliation commission, which held several sessions this past week.
“In terms of coming clear on history, we did,” said Anne Leahy, the Canadian ambassador to the Holy See. “It’s been a long process, and painful.”
Molinari, one of the church’s specialists on Native American issues, said it’s “certainly true” that Canada has come to terms with the past more forthrightly than the United States. But he said the American bishops had done “a lot over the years,” starting with the setting up an office of mission to the American Indians in 1874.
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, one of the highest-ranking Native Americans in the Church hierarchy – he’s one quarter Potawatomi from Kansas – said he thought that U.S. bishops had expressed regret to Native Americans in 1991 on the 500th anniversary of the European discovery of America. Their statement apologized for at times “reflecting the racism of the dominant culture of which we have been a part” and for forcing Native Americans “to become European at the same time they became Christian.”
Chaput, who arrived Friday in Rome for the canonization, cautioned against repeatedly revisiting past wrongs. “One of the techniques of a minority people to get attention is to play the victim and insist on apology upon apology upon apology, just to keep the other side off balance a bit,” he said. “I don’t know if that’s mature and useful either.”