Indigenous leaders are offering mixed reactions to a planned visit this summer by Pope Francis, with some welcoming the pontiff’s trip to Canada while others are disappointed he won’t travel to certain parts of the country.
The Vatican announced on Friday that the Pope would stop in Alberta, Quebec and Nunavut from July 24 to 29.
The news comes more than a month after he apologized for the Catholic Church’s role in Canada’s residential school system and promised to travel to the country.
Prior to that, he met privately with First Nations, Inuit and Métis delegates and residential school survivors. Indigenous delegates also told the Pope they expected him to deliver an apology on Canadian soil.
While some say they hoped the Pope’s visit will be a step toward reconciliation, others are disappointed he will not be travelling to provinces such as Saskatchewan, where many of Canada’s residential schools were located.
“We had a hope and a prayer that he would come and do the apology at one of our residential school sites,” Chief Bobby Cameron of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, which represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan, told CTV’s Power Play on Friday.
“Within one of our treaty territories, on one of our First Nations, where it would have, obviously, a meaningful impact for the survivors, descendants and families,”
At 85 years of age, the Pope is limited in how he can travel, Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton, who is serving as general coordinator of the trip, said.
The Pope can’t ride in helicopters or be in a vehicle for more than an hour, and must rest between events.
“In all honesty, when all is said and done, it’s the action items that are more crucial for the healing journey,” Cameron said.
This includes the immediate return of Indigenous cultural items and records held at the Vatican, the construction of healing and wellness centres at former residential school sites, as well as for those who committed crimes at residential schools to “be brought to justice,” he said.
Meanwhile, the president of the Manitoba Métis Federation, David Chartrand, told CTV News Winnipeg he is disappointed the Pope will not stop in Winnipeg either.
A separate Manitoba Métis delegation met with the Pope separately following his apology.
“It was a disappointment in my heart and for all the Red River Métis … for our nation,” Chartrand said.
More than 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were mostly forced from their families to attend residential schools from the late 1800s to 1996.
The goal of the institutions was to replace Indigenous language and culture with English and Christian beliefs.
Administered and funded by the federal government, churches and religious organizations largely ran the institutions.
Grand Chief Remy Vincent of the Huron-Wendat Nation in Wendake, Que., said Friday’s announcement had been relatively well-received.
“We must expect nothing less from the church than to come to our territories here, in Quebec and in Canada, to apologize to the First Nations for the horrors that were committed and have been brought to light in recent years,” he said.
Grand Chief George Arcand of the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations, which is working with The Holy See to plan the Pope’s stop in Alberta, said he recognizes the impact the visit will have on survivors, their families and communities.
Edmonton, one of the cities the Pope plans to visit, is part of Treaty 6 territory, which spans central Alberta and Saskatchewan.
“It is my hope we are on a path to healing and that survivors’ truths are validated with this historic visit to our territories,” Arcand said.
The Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs called for the trip to include the former Kamloops Residential School site, where potential graves were discovered almost a year ago.
Multiple discoveries of unmarked graves have occurred at former residential school sites since.
Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation said it’s a missed opportunity for the Pope to hear directly from the survivors of the former Kamloops Residential School.
“While we understand the vastness of Canada and the need to make the trip to Canada manageable for him, it is really unfortunate that he will not have the opportunity to come to Kamloops Residential School, the largest residential school in the country run by the Catholic Church,” Casimir said.
“(Survivors) need to witness a true, meaningful apology from the highest level, from the Pope himself.”
Speaking to reporters in French on Friday, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller welcomed the Pope’s planned visit as an opportunity to speak to survivors.
With files from CTV News Winnipeg and The Canadian Press
If you are a former residential school student in distress, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419, or the Indian Residential School Survivors Society toll free line at 1-800-721-0066.
Additional mental-health support and resources for Indigenous people are available here.
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