In a powerful reminder of why meetings between Pope Francis and Indigenous delegations took place this week, Assembly of First Nations delegates presented Francis with several gifts on Friday, including a beaded white leather stole from orange cross.
Orange has become synonymous with boarding schools in Canada, after author Phyllis Webstad wrote about her experience when an orange shirt was taken from her on her first day at boarding school.
Canada forced more than 150,000 First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children to attend residential schools between the 1880s and 1997, a policy the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called “cultural genocide.” Francis apologized on Friday for the conduct of some members of the Catholic Church in these schools.
The stole, a garment that priests wear over their shoulders, was made by Therese Dettanikkeaze of the Northlands Denesuline Nation in Manitoba, according to a document provided to media by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Delegates also gave Francis a pair of snowshoes, made of black ash with caribou and artificial sinew, by Sanders Weistche, an elder from the Cree community of Waskaganish, Quebec.
Cassidy Caron, President of the Métis National Council, presented the Pope with a souvenir book. The book includes stories from Métis residential school survivors and a personal letter from Cassidy.
The Inuit delegation presented the pope with a cross and a sealskin purse.
The cross was made with bowhead whale baleen, riveted to sterling silver with 18k gold. Baleen has a deep connection to Inuit culture, according to a document provided to media, as the harvest of a single bowhead whale could feed an entire community for months and provide income for Inuit artists. It is a flexible material that is often used in art and jewelry.
The purse was made of sealskin and ivory. Sealskin is naturally waterproof and biodegradable. Seals have a wide range of uses for the Inuit, providing food, warm clothing and materials for art. Ivory has also been used by the Inuit for centuries, as it is a strong material suitable for making tools and carvings.
At the end of their last meeting, François also presented gifts to the delegates. One member of each delegation received a bronze olive branch.
The olive branch symbol “is important to all people who believe in peace and harmony,” former Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine said after the meeting. “And we certainly do.”