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 that he is not visiting certain parts of the country.
The Vatican announced Friday that the pope will stop in Alberta, Quebec and Nunavut from July 24-29.
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 visit the country.
Previously, he met privately with First Nations, Inuit and Métis delegates and residential school survivors. Indigenous delegates also told the Pope they expected him to apologize on Canadian soil.
While some say they hoped the pope’s visit would be a step towards reconciliation, others are disappointed he won’t visit provinces like Saskatchewan, where many of Canada’s residential schools were located.
“We had a hope and a prayer that he would come and apologize at one of our residential school sites,” Chief Bobby Cameron of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, which represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan, said Friday. to CTV’s Power Play. .
“In one of our treaty territories, on one of our First Nations, where it would, obviously, have a significant impact for survivors, descendants and families,”
At 85, the pope is restricted in how he travels, said Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton, who is the trip’s overall coordinator.
The Pope cannot 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 most crucial to the healing journey,” Cameron said.
This includes the immediate return of Indigenous cultural objects and records held at the Vatican, the building of healing and wellness centers at former residential school sites, and that those who committed crimes in residential schools “be brought to justice,” he said. .
Meanwhile, Manitoba Metis Federation president David Chartrand told CTV News Winnipeg he was disappointed the pope wasn’t stopping in Winnipeg either.
A separate delegation of Métis from Manitoba met with the pope separately after his apology.
“It was a disappointment to my heart and to all Red River Métis…for our nation,” Chartrand said.
More than 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were mostly driven from their families to attend residential schools from the late 1800s to 1996.
The goal of the institutions was to replace the native language and culture with English and Christian beliefs.
Federally administered and funded, churches and religious organizations largely ran the institutions.
Grand Chief Rémy Vincent of the Huron-Wendat Nation of Wendake, Quebec, said Friday’s announcement was relatively well received.
“We should 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 have been committed and brought to light in recent years”, he said.
Grand Chief George Arcand of the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations, who 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 their communities.
Edmonton, one of the cities the pope plans to visit, is part of Treaty 6 territory, which spans central Alberta and Saskatchewan.
“I hope we are on the road to healing and that the truths of the survivors are validated with this historic visit to our territories,” Arcand said.
The Union of BC Indian Chiefs requested that the trip include the site of the former Kamloops residential school, where potential graves were discovered nearly a year ago.
Since then, numerous discoveries of anonymous graves have taken place on the sites of former boarding schools.
Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation said it was a missed opportunity for the pope to hear directly from survivors of the former Kamloops residential school.
“While we understand the vastness of Canada and the need to make travel to Canada manageable for him, it is truly unfortunate that he does not have the opportunity to come to Kamloops Boarding School, the largest boarding school in the country. run by the Catholic Church,” Casimir said.
“(Survivors) need to witness a real, meaningful apology from the highest level, from the Pope himself.”
Speaking to reporters in French on Friday, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller hailed 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 impacted by the Indian residential school system and need assistance, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential School Crisis Line at 1- 866-925-4419, or the Indian Residential Schools Service Survivors Society Toll-Free Line at 1-800-721-0066.
Additional mental health support and resources for Indigenous people are available here.