The Queen has said she will join Canadians in reflecting on the “painful history that Indigenous peoples endured in residential schools” in a message marking the country’s first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
Canada has been coming to terms with the grim discovery this year of hundreds of human remains in unmarked graves at former church-run schools — institutions to which Indigenous children were forcibly relocated for generations.
The Queen’s message was sent to Canadians via the country’s first Indigenous Governor General Mary May Simon, a former ambassador and lifelong advocate for Indigenous peoples.
The monarch said: “I join with all Canadians on this first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to reflect on the painful history that Indigenous peoples endured in residential schools in Canada, and on the work that remains to heal and to continue to build an inclusive society.”
From the 19th century until the 1970s, more than 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend state-funded Christian boarding schools in an effort to assimilate them into Canadian society.
Thousands of children died of disease and other causes, with many never returned to their families.
Nearly three-quarters of the 130 residential schools were run by Roman Catholic missionary congregations, with others operated by the Presbyterian, Anglican and the United Church of Canada, which today is the largest Protestant denomination in the country.
The Canadian government has acknowledged that physical and sexual abuse was rampant in the schools, with students beaten for speaking their native languages.
In June it was was announced that a group of Indigenous leaders will visit the Vatican later this year to press for a papal apology over the Roman Catholic Church’s role in residential schools.
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops said Indigenous leaders will visit the Vatican between December 17 and 20 to meet Pope Francis and “foster meaningful encounters of dialogue and healing”.
Pope Francis expressed his pain after the remains of 215 children, some as young as three, were found buried on the site of what was once Canada’s largest Indigenous residential school near Kamloops, British Columbia.
He pressed religious and political authorities to shed light on “this sad affair”, but he did not offer the apology sought by First Nations and the Canadian government.
The Canadian government formally apologised for the policy and abuses in 2008, and the Presbyterian, Anglican and United churches have apologised for their roles in the abuse.
A papal apology was one of 94 recommendations from Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but the Canadian bishops’ conference said in 2018 that the Pope could not personally apologise for the residential schools.