It has been a month since Pope Francis left Canada after apologizing for the Catholic Church’s role in residential schools after so many years of silence and denial, and there is still no concrete plan to make reparations or provide more resources to Indigenous communities.
Over the past few years, there have been many apologies to different communities, from the police brutality on the Black community to the Asian community for Asian hate crimes after hysteria behind the COVID-19 pandemic.
What did yet another apology without concrete actions really mean? What’s the path forward in a country that is undergoing rapid demographic change thanks to immigration?
The answer to what’s next, advocates say, is dependent on continuing pressure on the church and other institutions to make real changes.
And that pressure should come, advocates say, through building strong solidarity among marginalized groups (including Blacks and immigrants of colour), to combat systemic oppression.
“I don’t believe a single word of his 1/8Pope Francis 3/8 apology,” says Trey Robinson, an Afro-Ojibwe photographer. “Now all of a sudden, you care?”
Kennedy Aliu, a Nigerian international development and law student at Oxford University, points to the headdress that Pope Francis wore as an example of how the apology is more a spectacle and symbolic, rather than a genuine attempt at reconciliation.
An apology means nothing when there is no concrete groundwork to it. That is why many marginalized communities are tired of hearing it.
Aliu says that actions speak louder than words, and when there is inaction after the apology, or even a contradiction of the message by actions such as voting for policies that make it worse, the words become nothing but lies.
Vannary Kong is a member of the US Senate Armed Services Committee and the founder of the US-ASEAN Young Professionals Association. She talks about how these messages from politicians are just a publicity stunt.
She mentions how politicians and public figures use common talking points from the popular consensus to garner support, especially during a campaign for office. After, more times than not, the promises fall through, and marginalized communities continue to lose.
“With the Asian hate crimes, there was a public declaration of solidarity through speeches and PR statements, but when it came to actually starting the conversation around making the change, it was absolutely silent,” says Kong.
“I remember 1/8Prime Minister Justin 3/8 Trudeau promising during the first election that he would be there for us,” Robinson says. “A decade later, and things are still the same.”
For Robinson, real plans would include reparations for residential school survivors and resources for Indigenous communities dealing with poverty and mental health issues. He says both the Canadian government and the Catholic Church should work in conjunction to make this happen, as they have the funds.
With a constant cycle of inauthentic apologies and being misled with broken promises, how do we change it? Aliu says it starts with building unity among marginalized groups.
Aliu makes the point that if a united group of people is large enough, it can apply pressure toward change.
He references the public outrage around the tragedy of George Floyd that forced many institutions to take real accountability and look at policy reform that created a more inclusive environment for everyone.
“Even though we come from marginalized communities, that does not mean that we have to be powerless,” he says. “That is what they want us to feel.”
Through unity among marginalized communities, it will create a bigger sense of power than ever before, one that could possibly one day completely eradicate systemic oppression.