St. Pete protesters protest Roman Catholic Church’s massacre of Indigenous children

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Nearly two dozen demonstrators gathered in St. Petersburg on Saturday to hold the Roman Catholic Church accountable for the massacre of Indigenous children. During the past two weeks, more than 1,000 unmarked children’s graves have been unearthed from Canadian residential schools, causing widespread suffering throughout the Indigenous community.

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The protesters met at Williams Park to listen to members of Florida Indigenous Rights and Environmental Equality (FIREE) express the abuses their people endured then marched to St. Mary Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church to hold a vigil. There, they solemnly placed children’s toys, clothes, flowers, tobacco and candles at the front of the church, and posted a list of demands on the door.

The four main demands are:

• A full apology from the pope directly to Indigenous people
• The prosecution of all living school employees for crimes against humanity, no matter their age
Immediate review of all boarding school survivors who are currently incarcerated
A multi-billion dollar donation from the church to establish an entirely Indigenous run language and cultural revitalization initiative

Those who spoke cried out against the abuses of the church and the ills of colonization, and sang prayers in honor of their ancestors. They called on the non-Native community to grieve with them and to join their fight against Christian repression.

Only three out of 139 “residential schools”—which Natives say is just a colloquialism for “concentration camps”—have been searched in Canada, and Native tribes had to pay the cost for the ground penetrating radar to find the remains. For generations, Native children in Canada and the U.S. were forcibly sent to the schools, forced into assimilation, tortured and killed. After the discovery of the graves and a lack of action by Catholics, nine churches in Canada were burned to the ground.

There are 365 boarding schools in the U.S., only two of which have been searched for remains, where dozens of bodies were found. Some residential schools in the U.S. are still in operation.—Justin Garcia

07/03/2021 | Photos by Dave Decker