First Nations says the meeting of Pope Francis is the beginning of a ‘new partnership’

Gerald Antoine, head of the Assembly of First Nations delegations, said he believed a meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican would be the beginning of a “new partnership” to work for reconciliation between the indigenous people and the Catholic Church.

The First Nation delegation and survivors of the boarding school met with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Thursday. Speaking at a press briefing after the meeting, Antoine said there would be “continuous dialogue” between indigenous groups and the church to “learn from the past and share a vision for a hopeful future.”

He called the meeting with the pope a “historic milestone.”

The meeting lasted two hours, although the delegation was supposed to be with only one pope.

Before the meeting, the First Nation delegation sang a traditional song and played drums in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City.

The delegates said they wanted to explain to the pope how they were formed by the legacy of the Catholic Church and the Canadian residential school system, as well as the impact of that system on the next generation.

In an emotional meeting, they demanded the abolition of the doctrine of discovery and the return of tribal lands. They also requested Pope Francis to travel to Canada to apologize for the church’s role in residential schools.

During Thursday’s meeting with the First Nations, Pope Francis did not promise to come to Canada or issue a formal apology. Delegates, however, say they left the two-hour meeting optimistic.

“Despite our combined grief and pain, there is hope for change,” Antoine said after a tour with Pontiff on Thursday.

“This change will bring dignity, equality, trust and the opportunity for this change to happen.”

During the meeting, the delegation presented the Pope with cultural presents, including moccasins, an eagle feather and a cradle board, intended as an example of the survival of First Nations culture in spite of peace efforts and assimilation efforts.

The delegation said they had given the pope the responsibility of taking care of the cradle board overnight, in the hope that he would return it on Friday as a sign of his promise to meet with the three indigenous groups.

Beginning in the late 1800s, about 150,000 Indigenous children were separated from their families and forced to enroll in residential schools, a facility aimed at replacing their language and culture with English and Christian beliefs. The schools were founded by the Canadian government and were run mostly by the Catholic Church.

Numerous cases of abuse and at least 4,100 deaths have been recorded in former residential schools, where thousands of confirmed and unmarked graves have been found. Canada’s last boarding school closed in 1996.

The Inuit and Metis delegations met with the pope at the Vatican on Monday. The pope did not apologize to them.

When Pope Francis meets with delegates on Friday, he is expected to discuss the church’s next steps, which he hopes will include papal pardons on many Indigenous Canadians.

“(Indigenous peoples) have been waiting a lifetime for the pope to apologize for what happened to them as children,” said Wilton Littlechild, a spokesman.

Speaking at a news conference on Thursday, Archbishop Richard Smith said the meeting with the First Nations had “deeply” impressed Pope Francis and that he would be engaged in “reflective reflections” overnight before Friday’s meeting.

Smith said he, along with his fellow bishops and Pope Francis, “wanted to be on this journey” toward reunion with tribal groups.

Kukpi7 Chief of British Columbia Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation Rozan Casimi is one of 15 government officials who addressed the pope in a private meeting on Thursday. In his 10-minute speech, he personally asked her to come to Kamloops, where 215 unmarked graves – later modified to 200 – which are believed to be mostly children, were discovered last year.

Pope Francis has previously indicated his willingness to travel to Canada, although no date or venue for such a visit has been announced.

It has been coming for a long time, to this day there has been no formal apology from the Pope. Surviving students at the boarding school say it would make more sense to apologize if Pope Francis went to Canada for it.

They want recognition of the Catholic Church’s involvement in the destruction of the lives of innocent children in what the survivors call genocide.

Since the late 1980s, several apologies have been made by various church groups, including former Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2008 and RCMP in 2004 and 2014 – each acknowledging their role in running the boarding school.

In 2017, during a meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked the head of the Catholic Church to apologize for his involvement in Canada’s residential school system. But the following year, the church issued a letter saying that the pope did not apologize.

Although he did not expect an official Papal apology during this week’s trip, Phil Fontaine, former national head of the Assembly of First Nations and residential school survivor, previously told CTV National News that he was confident a Canada would be delivered.

“Our expectation is very clear and strong that Pope Francis will apologize,” Fontaine said on Tuesday. “Our hope is that he will come to Canada to apologize. He has already made a commitment to visit Canada, and so there is an expectation and hope that he will apologize to Canada in First Nations Land. “

Speaking outside the St. Peter’s Basilica on Thursday, Fontaine said he was optimistic about the progress made since the meeting.

“We have heard the Holy Father say very clearly: ‘The church is with you’,” he said. “The next thing we hear is: ‘I’m sorry.’ I believe in it. “

Fontaine had previously pressed Pope Benedict to apologize in 2009, but Rome left empty-handed.

With files from The Canadian Press, CTV National News’s Donna Sound and Chrison Edgecote, as well as authors Daniel Otis and Ben Cousins.

If you are a former residential school student, or are affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential School Crisis Line 1-866-925-4419Or on the toll free line of the Indian Residential School Survivors Society 1-800-721-0066.

Additional mental-health support and resources for indigenous peoples are available here.

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