See the gifts exchanged during the Pope’s last meeting with indigenous delegations


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.

On Friday, Pope Francis receives a white leather stole beaded with orange crosses from delegates of the Assembly of First Nations at the Vatican. (Vatican Media via Reuters)

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.

The Grand Chief of the Cree Youth of Quebec, Adrian N. Gunner, presents the Pope with a pair of snowshoes. (Vatican Media via Reuters)

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.

This work was included in a book of memories presented to Pope Francis by the Métis delegation on Friday. (Provided by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops)

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.

Delegate Rhoda Ungalaq presents Pope Francis with a baleen cross and sealskin pouch, in the Clementine Hall of the Vatican Apostolic Palace. (Vatican Media via Reuters)

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.

The cross is made from the baleen of a bowhead whale, riveted to sterling silver with 18k gold. (Provided by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops)

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.”

On Friday, Pope Francis presents a gift to Inuit delegate Rosemary Lundrigan at the Vatican. (Vatican Media via Reuters)