‘Pick Up the Pieces’: Indigenous Delegates Travel to Rome to Ask Pope to Apologize for Residential Schools
Inuit national leader Natan Obed heads to a private meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Monday with a simple message: The Holy See must apologize for the Church’s role in residential schools to help survivors cope. the burdens of the past inflicted on the gift.
The president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), the national body representing Inuit, has spent his career hearing about the harm caused by institutions.
He said his father attended a non-Catholic boarding school in Newfoundland, so he also lived with the effects of intergenerational trauma.
“It had a huge impact on my life,” Obed said. “I understand the need to continue healing.”
Obed said he plans to invite the pope to visit the Inuit homeland of Inuit Nunangat, which stretches from Nunavut through northern Quebec to Labrador.
He said he also intends to ask Pope Francis to ensure that those still alive who committed crimes against children while employed by Catholic boarding schools are brought to justice.
“The most important thing for the pope to understand is that we are always picking up the pieces,” Obed said.
“There is a responsibility that never seems to go back to the institution, but always rests with those most affected, and especially the descendants of the most affected.”
Archbishop expects Pope to apologize
The Pope is holding hour-long private audiences this week with more than 30 members of First Nations, Inuit and Métis delegations.
The Métis delegates will first meet with the Pope on Monday, followed by a separate meeting with the Inuit and a meeting with the First Nations delegates on Thursday.
A mental health support worker will be in the room for these meetings, as well as an interpreter.
The pope is expected to spend most of his time listening at each meeting and making brief remarks in Italian or Spanish.
He is expected to formally respond to delegates before a final public hearing on Friday involving 150 people and the three delegations, including their family members and support staff.
The meetings are expected to set the stage for an upcoming trip the pope is planning to Canada. More importantly, it’s an opportunity for Pope Francis to issue a public apology for the Roman Catholic Church’s primary role in running most residential schools in Canada, something Indigenous organizations have been demanding for years.
Between the 1870s and 1997, more than 150,000 First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children were forced to attend these church-run, government-funded institutions.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission – which from 2008 to 2015 examined the record of the residential school system in Canada – called for a papal apology as part of its 94 calls to action.
Although the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) has issued an apology, the pope has yet to issue an apology.
Archbishop of Edmonton Richard Smith, who is one of six bishops traveling to Rome with the delegates, said he expects the pope to “listen deeply to them.”
“And I think we can be sure he will say what needs to be said,” Smith added.
The meetings are described by the church as a “meeting” between the pope and indigenous people – an attempt to understand the effects of church-run residential schools on indigenous people through the words of their children and grandchildren.
“A remarkable, remarkable moment”
“He continues to call on the world to establish a culture of encounter, where people actually meet, listen to each other, learn from each other,” Smith said.
“It will be a remarkable, remarkable moment. A historic moment.”
Smith said that during a visit to the Vatican in 2017, he and other Canadian bishops received a clear message from Pope Francis that he was committed to working with them and Indigenous peoples on healing and healing. reconciliation.
“As he listened to us tell the stories that we had heard from Indigenous people, you could just see the empathy, the pain, the grief becoming deeply, deeply etched on his face,” Smith said.
“That’s when he said to us, ‘Listen, you are the local shepherds. You are the local bishops. You are the ones who have direct relationships with the indigenous peoples of your respective territories. I I need you…to keep walking with them.'”
Since then, the CCCB has been working to schedule papal hearings with the three main national organizations representing Indigenous peoples – ITK, the Métis National Council and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN).
The visit, which is paid for by the bishops, was due to take place last December but was postponed due to the global outbreak of Omicron cases.
“Having such a rapid turnaround in the Pope’s schedule is really a remarkable signal that he is really looking forward to meeting with the Indigenous delegations and hearing from them,” Smith said.
Pope must apologize on Canadian soil: Métis delegate
The papal apology is the number one priority for the Métis delegation. But for it to matter, it has to happen on Canadian soil, said Cassidy Caron, president of the Métis National Council (MNC).
“I don’t think it will be enough for the pope to apologize privately,” said Caron, who leads the mixed-race delegation.
“I am not a direct survivor of residential schools myself and this apology is due to our survivors and their families, not just the few people who have the opportunity, the chance and the privilege to travel to the Vatican.”
Caron met weekly with Métis delegates in preparation for the trip. She has also traveled across the country to visit residential school survivors and community members.
“We saw this as an opportunity to walk through and share the stories of the Métis Nation, for him to really understand the similarities, but also the unique experiences of First Nations, Métis and Inuit,” she said. declared.
Caron said she also plans to urge the pope to release community records related to residential schools.
“That’s how we will fully understand what was going on, what is this story, what are these experiences of our people,” Caron said.
“We are advocating for more than residential school records. We are advocating for the records of the communities in which these churches were located.”
The AFN will ask the pope for the restitution of ancestral lands
The meetings follow a 2009 encounter between the AFN and Pope Benedict XVI, who expressed “sorrow” over the abuse and deplorable treatment suffered by Indigenous students in residential schools, but did not apologize for the actions of the Church.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called for a papal apology during a private audience with Pope Francis in 2017, but said he left “disappointed”.
At the time, the CCCB president said Pope Francis was quick to acknowledge the injustices faced by Indigenous peoples around the world, but he could not personally apologize for residential schools.
Since then, the Roman Catholic Church has faced increasing pressure to do more, especially since the discovery over the past year of what are believed to be thousands of unmarked graves at ancient sites of boarding schools across the country.
“They must be held accountable and take responsibility for the great harm caused by their direct role in the institution of assimilation and genocide they led,” said Regional Chief Gerald Antoine of the Northwest Territories, who leads the APN delegation.
Antoine, who is a residential school survivor, said the pope could do several things to redeem himself.
He said the NPC plans to ask the pope to return church properties on traditional indigenous lands to indigenous peoples, offer long-term financial support to survivors and replace the doctrine of discovery – a papal decree of 1493 used to justify Christian European explorers. ‘ reclaims lands and waterways they would have discovered – with a new papal bull that respects indigenous peoples and cultures.
“We are now at the foot of this huge hill and this is where the Holy Father is also standing,” Antoine said.
“Our challenge for all of us is, how can we together…climb this hill?”
Support is available to anyone affected by their residential school experience or recent reports.
A National Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line has been established to provide support to former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis hotline: 1-866-925-4419.