First Nations delegates say they believe Pope Francis will apologize for residential schools

First Nations delegates left a two-hour meeting at the Vatican on Thursday saying they believed Pope Francis would soon issue an apology for the role of the Roman Catholic Church in the residential school system.

The 14 Assembly of First Nations delegates met privately with Pope Francis at the Apostolic Palace. During the meeting – originally scheduled for an hour – delegates said they could hear First Nations drumming and singing from St. Peter’s Square inside the hall.

Although Pope Francis did not make it clear that he would apologize, the words he used left delegates confident that it will happen, the former Assembly of First Nations national chief said. Phil Fountain.

“We heard the Holy Father say very clearly, ‘The Church is with you,'” Fontaine said.

Fontaine, a residential school survivor, said he believes Pope Francis could issue a formal apology as early as this summer.

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Elder Wilton Littlechild addresses a crowd after a day of meetings in Vatican City

Littlechild offered words of hope as he spoke of reconciliation and a new relationship between First Nations communities and the Catholic Church. 0:42

Fontaine met Pope Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI in 2009 at the Vatican. Pope Benedict issued an expression of regret at the time, but did not officially apologize.

The First Nations delegation presented Pope Francis with a crib board – a traditional tool for carrying infants – as a symbol of every child who attended institutions and those who never returned.

The delegation asked the pope to take care of the cradle and reflect on its significance before returning it on Friday during a larger scheduled audience with all indigenous representatives.

“We told His Holiness, ‘How you treat this birthplace will show how you treat our people in the future,'” said Grand Chief Mandy Gull-Masty of the Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee in Quebec.

“By returning the cradle to the delegation, he will demonstrate his commitment to our people.”

Former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Phil Fontaine, center, walks with members of the First Nations delegation in St. Peter’s Square at the end of their meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican on March 31, 2022 . (Andrew Medichini/AP)

Fred Kelly, spiritual advisor to the Onigaming Ojibways First Nation delegation, presented the Pope with a white feather.

“I said to him in my language: ‘You are now known as the white feather, to commemorate the eagle who joined and now flies to the white dove towards peace and harmony'”, a- he declared.

Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Kúkpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir told CBC News that delegates spoke to the Pope about missing children from residential schools.

Last year, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc reported the discovery of more than 200 unmarked graves near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia.

“He heard the impacts…the importance and significance of the things that need to be recognized and worked on moving forward,” Casimir said.

Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Kúkpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir said Pope Francis had heard of the impact of boarding schools and unmarked graves. (Olivia Stefanovitch/CBC)

Pope urged to revoke Doctrine of Discovery

Delegates also urged the Pope to release all residential school records held by his church and to revoke centuries-old papal decrees used to justify the seizure of Indigenous lands in the Americas by colonial powers.

Two papal bulls issued in 1455 and 1493 gave the church’s blessing to the explorers’ claims to Africa and the Americas.

The Doctrine of Discovery is based largely on these papal bulls, issued by Pope Nicholas V and Pope Alexander VI.

“If you look at our history…what’s happened since they landed on our shores, then it’s basically genocide,” said Gérald Antoine, elected Dene National Chief and Regional Chief of the Northwest Territories AFN.

“We have to right the wrong.”

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The regional leader of the Assembly of First Nations delegation, Gerald Antoine, said he hopes the delegation can forge a new relationship with Pope Francis and the Catholic Church after the visit to the Vatican. 8:13

Abandoning the doctrine would fulfill the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action 49, which urges all religious and faith groups to repudiate the concepts used to justify European sovereignty over indigenous lands and peoples.

The Doctrine of Discovery declared that lands held by Indigenous peoples were zero land — Latin for “no one’s land”.

Kaluhyanu;wes Michelle Schenandoah, a member of the Oneida Nation, said the basis of the doctrine was the belief that non-Christian indigenous people were soulless.

“Because we had no soul, it gave these explorers the right to do whatever they wanted with the indigenous people – murder, rape, enslave,” she said.

Schenandoah said the doctrine has shaped the mindset and behavior of Western culture for centuries.

The pope called to “take the first step”

She also stated that there is a direct link between the doctrine and the disappearances and deaths of Indigenous women in Canada.

In many pre-contact Indigenous nations, she said, women had the final say in how the land was used, making it obstacles to European exploration and colonization.

“When you look at how these countries have treated Indigenous women, we’re at the bottom,” Schenandoah said. “Because the doctrine has put us in this place of being invisible and dispensable, so countries are treating us that way.

“What gives any human or nation the right to claim dominion over any other human or nation anywhere in this world?”

Mandy Gull-Masty is the Grand Chief of the Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee in Quebec. (Olivia Stefanovitch/CBC)

The doctrine found its way into law and influenced Canada’s Indian Act, land claims, and the residential school system.

Bruce McIvor, a partner at First Peoples Law in Vancouver, said the pope could make a difference in Canada by giving up the doctrine.

“It would give Canada momentum for courts and governments to seriously address this fundamental lie that underlies non-Indigenous claims to Indigenous lands in Canada,” he said.

McIvor said the federal government could also pass legislation repealing the doctrine.

“If the pope took the first step, it would spur the federal government to do the same,” he said.

Kaluhyanu;wes Michelle Schenandoah, a member of the Oneida Nation, carries an intricate cradle in Rome which she presented to Pope Francis. (HO-Katsisionni Fox/The Canadian Press)

McIvor said he believes the lingering influence of the doctrine is why reconciliation continues to fail in Canada.

“When we hear the word reconciliation, what most Canadians don’t realize is that it invokes the doctrine of discovery,” McIvor said.

“Because when the courts and…the government say reconciliation, they mean coming to terms with this fundamental lie that colonizers can just show up and claim Indigenous land. »

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