Beyond Pope’s Apology, Indigenous Christians Carve Own Path to Healing

Recovering languages and contextualizing theology help Canada’s First Nations communities reconcile faith and culture after residential schools made them “hate the name of Jesus.”

Three weeks before Pope Francis visited Canada to apologize for the church’s involvement in indigenous residential schools, Christina Dawson’s church in Vancouver, British Columbia, burned down.

The fire was eerily reminiscent of the more than 50 churches that were defaced or destroyed across the country a year ago, weeks after the discoveries of the remains of residential school students began making international headlines.

This month’s fire started in a back alley on July 6, according to Dawson. By the next morning, the church’s two-story building was completely ravaged. Fire inspectors are still investigating the incident to determine whether the blaze was deliberately set.

Dawson is from the Nuu-chah-nulth Nations on the western end of Vancouver Island. She serves as lead pastor of Street Church, which is part of the Foursquare network of churches in Canada. Its pastoral team are all alumni of First Nations Bible College.

The pope’s apology has galvanized Dawson’s desire to share Christ with other indigenous peoples. “I find it more urgent than ever to find a new building [for my church],” she said.

“What the priests and nuns at these residential schools did to us was evil,” Dawson said. “But the worst thing they did to us: They made us indigenous people hate the name of Jesus.”

A mixed reception

On Monday (July 24), Francis apologized for the Catholic church’s role in setting up Canada’s residential schools and perpetuating decades of abuse against First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children.

The pope’s weeklong trip to Canada came on the heels of a visit …

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