Indigenous leaders believe papal audience to lobby for boarding schools apology

Indigenous leaders will meet Pope Francis at the Vatican in December to press for a papal apology for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in boarding schools, according to two people close to the discussions.

First Nations, Khalati and Inuit delegations will meet with the pope separately between December 17 and December 20, according to officials close to the negotiations who are not authorized to speak publicly at this time.

The sources said that the entire indigenous delegation will then hold a final papal session on December 20 to conclude the visit.

The sources said the purpose of the meetings was to invite Pope Francis to make an apology on Canadian soil.

Leaders of the Assembly of First Nations, the National Council of the Métis, and Inuit Taberet Kanatami want Pope Francis to make a formal apology to survivors and families for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in running boarding schools and other Canadian institutions that Indigenous students have been forced to attend.

National Aboriginal leaders have been working with the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) for more than two years to send a delegation of Aboriginal representatives to meet the Pope.

First Nations Assembly President Perry Bellegarde, left, and Manitoba Metis President David Chartrand, right, hear Inuit President Tapiriit Kanatami Natan Obed respond to a question in the lobby of the House of Commons at Parliament House in Ottawa, Thursday. December 15, 2016. (Adrian Wild/The Canadian Press)

In a statement earlier this month, the CCCB said the Indigenous delegation will consist of seniors, knowledge keepers, residential school survivors and youth from across the country.

The bishops’ statement on June 10 said the visit would give Pope Francis an opportunity to “listen directly to indigenous peoples, express his sincere closeness, and address the impact of colonialism and the Church’s involvement in boarding schools, so as to respond to the suffering of indigenous peoples and the continuing effects of intergenerational trauma.”

The trip should have already happened, but the pandemic pushed those plans back.

Now, following the reported discovery of unmarked graves at the sites of former residential school sites in Kamloops, British Columbia, and Quices First Nation in Saskatchewan, the push is growing to lay the groundwork for an official papal apology.

“The pope must apologize,” Cadmus Delorme’s first state head of state Cadmus Delorme said last week after announcing the initial discovery of 751 unmarked graves in a cemetery near the former Marival Indian Residential School, 140 kilometers east of Regina.

“Apologizing is one stage of the healing journey.”

The Church is still the only institution that has not issued an official apology

The leaders also intend to ask the Pope to instruct the Church to release all records relating to boarding schools, as well as any Aboriginal materials seized from Canada that the Vatican may keep in its vaults.

On behalf of the federal government, the Catholic Church operated more than half of all boarding schools in Canada, which were open between 1831 and 1996.

The church also ran day schools – they functioned like boarding schools, although their students did not stay overnight.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets Pope Francis for a private meeting at the Vatican on Monday. May 29, 2017. (Shawn Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The Roman Catholic Church is the only institution that has not yet made a formal apology for its role in running boarding schools in Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met Pope Francis at the Vatican in 2017 to request an apology.

Last month, President Rosanne Casimir of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation urged the pope to apologize after revealing the remains of an estimated 215 children buried on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia.

Pope Francis said earlier this month that he was saddened by the discovery and called for the rights and culture of indigenous peoples to be respected. His statement was not an official apology.

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