TORONTO - A group of delegates representing First Nations, Inuit and Métis head to Rome this weekend for an audience with the Pope. The delegation consists of about 30 Indigenous people including elders, residential school survivors and youth.
The delegation’s theme is centered around how Indigenous Peoples and the Catholic Church can move forward together toward healing and reconciliation. It is precisely the history of residential schools in Canada that has ignited the national conversation.
It has been particularly difficult for the Indigenous community following the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves, including the remains of children, on the grounds of former residential schools across Canada. The discoveries have reopened old wounds for the survivors and their families.
Part of the healing process involves discussions focused on meaningful action to rebuild trust, reconciliation and mutual respect as a community and a country.
The visit to the Vatican is in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Call Action number 58. The Commission calls on the Pope to issue an apology to Survivors, their families and communities for the Church’s role in the cultural, emotional, spiritual, physical and sexual abuse of Indigenous children in the Catholic-run residential school system.
Earlier this week, the Métis National Council (MNC) announced its members of the official delegation to the Rome. Headed by MNC President Cassidy Caron, the delegation includes survivors, Elders, youth and community members, nine in total. They will be joined by a larger secondary delegation of Elder helpers, family members, community leaders and support staff.
According to a statement by the MNC, “delegates will convey the deep, lasting intergenerational trauma that residential schools inflicted upon the Métis Nation”, also, “the need for the Church to provide reparations to the Métis Nation”. Those reparations would include financial support for community-led healing and rebuilding initiatives.
The official Métis delegates will meet privately with the head of the Catholic Church next week. Pope Francis will also meet separately with the delegation representing the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.
The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Northwest Territories Regional Chief Gerald Antoine, who will lead the delegation to Rome said, “meeting with Pope Francis is an important step”. He commented on its significance as the community continues to address the Catholic Church’s role in what many First Nation’s children experienced while attending the institutions.
The group includes thirteen First Nation delegates representing the AFN along with Survivors of Residential Institutions of Assimilation and Genocide and two youth representatives. Together they represent Indigenous Peoples from all across Canada and will meet privately with Pope Francis on March 31. A final audience with the Pope and all participants, including representatives of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, is scheduled for April 1.
Later this year, the Pope is expected to visit Canada and meet with Indigenous communities seek an apology by the head of the Catholic Church to be delivered in Canada. “The significance of a papal apology on the very soil that residential school atrocities occurred cannot be stressed enough”, stated President Caron. “It must be done here in Canada, and in the spirit of reconciliation”, he added.
P. Pajdo is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter