Residential School: Leaders of First Nations prepare to meet Pope Francis in Rome

Indigenous leaders and survivors of civic organizations are preparing to meet Pope Francis in Vatican City next week, in what they hope is the first step towards the Pope traveling to Canada to petition. fault for the Catholic Church’s role in Canada’s brutal residential school system.

The historic meeting, which has been postponed once due to COVID-19, will take place at the end of March.

Separate delegations of Metis, Inuit and First Nations leaders will meet the Pope, with the First Nations delegation speaking to him on March 31.

During Thursday’s press conference, the Council of First Nations (AFN) said its number one request from the Pope was for an official apology on Canadian soil.

“They must take responsibility and acknowledge their responsibility for the enormous harm caused by their direct role in the assimilation and genocide that they run,” said Gerald Antoine, Area Head of the Northwest Territ AFN, Dene Nations, and Head of the First Nations delegation, said during the press conference.

The boarding school system was conceived and funded by the Canadian government, but most schools are run by the Catholic Church.

“We seek justice,” said Antoine. “Only then can we begin to really walk the path of healing.”

He said that many natives who asked him if the trip to the Vatican would lead to the Pope actually going to Canada to deliver the apology had been called for.

“I think this is a long overdue issue,” he said. “In Canada, there are churches that have apologized, and the Roman Catholic Church is the only one that has not.”

But he says they have hope.

“We all had a really strong sense that this was going to happen.”

But an apology is not the sole purpose of the visit.

AFN wants not only gestures, but also specific actions. They said they would also ask the Church to return all Indigenous land back to its legal First Nation, and return all Indigenous artefacts from the Vatican.

They are also calling on the Church to invest more in survivors and their families in long-term healing, in addition to the $30 million pledge Canada’s Catholic bishops promised to donate in September. 2021 for residential school survivors.

Their final request was for the Pope to correct a historical mistake: the annulment of the 1493 discovery doctrine used to justify the Indigenous occupation of land.

“Something very important happened to the indigenous people and I believe there is a perception on the part of the Catholic Church that they have to do more,” said Grand Chief Mandy Gull-Masty, Grand Nation of Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee and the Quebec representative of the delegation, said.

Canada’s longest serving CEO of nearly 40 years, Marie-Anne Day Walker-Pelletier, will be Saskatchewan’s representative for AFN.

At the age of 10, she endured seven years of abuse at Lebret boarding school, losing her language and culture.

She told CTV News: “I want to be the voice of the survivors, our ancestors and the children who have never returned home. “So that’s the whole reason that I agreed to participate.”

She said that the different members of the delegation were given specific topics to focus on during their brief window to talk about the various impacts of residential schools.

“We have a total of 10 minutes to tell the Pope our story,” she said.

She had just three minutes to talk to the Pope about the impact of hundreds of unmarked graves found last year at residential schools in Tk’emlùs te Secwépemc and Cowessess First Nation, among others. other.

“He needed to come and tell the Mosoms and Kokums and our family and community that he was really sorry, that he needed to be there and that it needed to come from his heart,” she said. .

Her goal was clear: convince Pope Francis to come to Canada and issue that official apology.

“Our job is to convince him […] to come to Canada in the very near future,” she said.

Pope Francis will also meet the Metis and Inuit delegations starting Monday in Rome.

While he has agreed to meet residential school survivors in their traditional territories in Canada later this year, so far there has been no commitment to an actual date.

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