Press Release

Contact: Janee Andrews at
NIHB Chairman Makes Statement on Pope Francis Visit to the First Nations of Canada
The National Indian Health Board (NIHB) Chairman, William Smith (Valdez Native Tribe), released the following statement on the visit of Pope Francis to the First Nations of Canada.  

“The National Indian Health Board (NIHB) recognizes the important step taken by Pope Francis in issuing a formal apology for the Catholic Church’s role in the implementation of Canada’s Indian residential school system—a system patterned after the Indian mission and boarding schools created by the Indian Boarding School Policy of the United States. As a public health organization, NIHB has stressed the legacy of unresolved historical and intergenerational trauma as foundational to the many health disparities and negative health outcomes experienced by American Indians and Alaska Natives today, as evidenced in the 2018 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Broken Promises Report. 

In February, NIHB adopted the Boarding School Healing Resolution, which recalls the devastating history and use of the Doctrine of Discovery and Manifest Destiny as political and religious justification for genocidal policies against American Indians and Alaska Natives. The resulting U.S. Indian Boarding School Policy produced an alliance between the U.S. government and both Catholic, Protestant, and other Christian and religious denominations and institutions whose sole and contracted purpose was to eradicate American Indian and Alaska Native identity by removing children from their families and communities and enforcing assimilation through the school system. In the very system where children should find nurturing and safety, Native children were instead subjected to physical, mental, spiritual, and sexual abuse. Too many children never returned home, and some who did were never fully welcomed. 

The inclusion of the word “healing” in NIHB’s Boarding School Healing Resolution is deliberate. Healing is essential for the reclamation of identities that residential schools were designed to steal and eradicate, but healing can only come with the truth. And everyone involved in the history of boarding schools must be transparent in pursuing that truth.  

Pope Francis’ apology to the First Nations of Canada is a welcome and promising beginning, but it is only a first step. NIHB’s resolution calls upon all Christian religious denominations involved in establishing and administering boarding schools to accept responsibility, formally apologize, and afford full transparency and access to their records. Most importantly, these institutions should support healing work in American Indian and Alaska Native communities--actively, tangibly, and through exploration of financial support--as communities reclaim and revitalize Native identity through the strength and resilience of Tribal sovereignty.”

Established by the Tribes to advocate as the united voice of federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native Tribes, NIHB seeks to reinforce Tribal sovereignty, strengthen Tribal health systems, secure resources, and build capacity to achieve the highest level of health and well-being for our People.
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