Police are investigating after an altercation broke out at a Catholic church in Canada on Sunday—two days after its priest was removed from his post for claiming unmarked graves at residential schools are a “huge lie.”
A group of Indigenous folks, including elders, arrived at Our Lady Queen of Poland, a Polish-language church in Edmonton, Alberta, at about 11 a.m. to listen to a scheduled apology on behalf of Rev. Marcin Mironiuk, slated after VICE World News broke the story of his remarks.
When the demonstrators entered the building, however, they were met with resistance, multiple reports say.
An elder told Global News about half a dozen demonstrators tried to enter the church before five or six church goers ran to the door and threw an elder against the wall and grappled with her. She said others were pushed out of the building, too.
"Those people assaulted me on my land when I'm defending the children," the elder and protest organizer, Taz Augustine, told CBC News on Sunday morning. "This is the bullshit that we've been putting up with on our land since these colonial people have come."
Augustine’s arm was injured as a result, she said.
Last week, Mironiuk apologized for harmful comments he made back in July against Indigenous communities and the Jewish community, calling unmarked graves at residential school sites, as well as details about a massacre likely marked by Poles murdering hundreds of Jews during World War II, “lies.”
Mironiuk has since been removed from his post “indefinitely.” Another priest was slated to read Mironiuk’s apology publicly at masses over the weekend.
Augustine showed up to listen to the apology in-person.
"We're here to tell the truth and we're here to hold him accountable. And we're here to let these people know we're not standing for this any longer," Augustine said. “When I hear these people walking out of this church justifying his words and saying he's telling the truth, that we're the liars? No.”
"He is perpetuating lies. And that apology is not taking that away."
Edmonton’s Archdiocese released Mironiuk’s full apology over the weekend, as well as a statement from his Polish superiors at the Oblate Fathers of Assumptive Province. The statement called Mironiuk’s remarks “careless and improvised.” Mironiuk will spend time with historians to deepen his understanding of residential schools, and attend monthly memorial masses for children who died at residential schools, the statement says.
Mironiuk isn’t the only Catholic priest to face scrutiny after spreading false information about residential schools or downplaying their impact. Also in July, a priest in Manitoba said residential school survivors lied about sexual abuse for money, while an archbishop, also in Manitoba, said residential school news is “exaggerated.”
Canada ran residential schools, with the help of churches, to forcibly assimilate 150,000 First Nation, Inuit, and Métis children. Abuses were common and living conditions were often deplorable, resulting in rampant disease and malnutrition. Death rates were significantly higher than in the general population of schoolchildren in Canada.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which investigated the horrors at residential schools and their ongoing legacy, had tallied about 3,200 deaths—nearly half without a documented cause—by 2015. The TRC’s final report said many more unmarked graves and undocumented deaths were likely.
In May, Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc First Nation confirmed about 200 unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, with many more announced across Canada since. Thousands more are expected as other Indigenous communities embark on their own searches.
Anyone experiencing distress or pain as a result of residential schools can call the Indian Residential School Survivors Society Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419). It’s available 24/7.
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