Pope Francis typically wears a white skull cap. For a few moments on Monday, however, it was covered up by different headgear: a feathered, beaded Indigenous headdress.

He was presented with the gift by a First Nations chief during Francis’ visit to the former site of a boarding school for Indigenous children. During his weeklong trip to Canada, including to several Native communities, he apologized for Christians’ role in the residential school system that forcibly assimilated children for decades – wounds that are still healing.

Brenda Child, a historian who has written extensively about the United States’ own boarding schools for Native American children, and whose own grandparents attended them, explains the role religion played in the Canadian and American systems – and why some Native people felt the pope didn’t deserve the honor of a headdress.

Also today:

Molly Jackson

Religion and Ethics Editor

Gilda Soosay, president of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows Parish Council in Maskwacis, Canada, where Pope Francis visited the site of a state school for Indigenous children. Cole Burston/AFP via Getty Images

Christianity was a major part of Indigenous boarding schools – a historian whose family survived them explains

Brenda J. Child, University of Minnesota

A historian of the residential schools explains how religion played a key role in assimilationist systems for Indigenous children in Canada and the United States.

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