Quebec First Nations leaders ask Pope to visit former residential school sites during his trip

Quebec First Nations leaders say Pope Francis’ visit to the province’s capital is an important step towards reconciliation, but only if done right.

On Friday, the Vatican officially announced a visit by Francis to Canada from July 24-29, with three main stops in Quebec, Edmonton and Iqaluit.

Chief Ghislain Picard of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador is calling on the pontiff to visit sites of former Indian residential schools, saying his current Quebec itinerary is disappointing.

“We have made repeated calls for the pope to take the time to visit at least one of the sites where unmarked graves have been discovered and well, so far that doesn’t seem to be in the plan,” he said. he declares.

“For me, if a formal apology is to take place in Canada, then obviously it would be very important that it happened at the site of one of those hundreds of schools that existed in the last century.”

Quebec Cree Youth Grand Leader Adrian N. Gunner presented Pope Francis with traditional snowshoes when he met with him in Rome in April. (Reuters/Vatican Media)

In a statement, the Vatican said it would work with indigenous leaders when developing plans to visit specific sites or communities, adding that the pope’s mobility and health issues could play a role in planning. . More details will be released six to eight weeks before the papal visit, according to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Meanwhile, planning is underway for the Pope to visit Lac Ste. Anne Pilgrimage Grounds, a designated National Historic Site located approximately 75 kilometers northwest of Edmonton, and possibly Ermineskin Cree Nation, approximately 100 kilometers south of Edmonton.

A chance for recovery, says residential school survivor

The Catholic Archbishop of Quebec, Gérald Cyprien Lacroix, said the pope’s visit “will do good” and that he welcomes him “with great joy”.

“It is a pastoral visit where [the Pope] will come to continue the apologies he has already made and well made to the Vatican, but above all continue to listen and bring a message to say ‘we continue the journey together, we will continue to walk together and look for ways to move forward “, did he declare.

The pontiff initially announced his intention to visit Canada during an April 1 meeting with First Nations, Inuit and Métis delegates, who traveled to the Vatican to meet him.

On the same day, he issued an initial apology for the actions of individual members of the Roman Catholic Church in residential schools in Canada.

Archbishop Richard Smith, coordinator of the papal visit to Canada, said he expects Francis to repeat the same apology during his visit to Canada.

Armand Mackenzie says events like the Pope’s visit to Canada present “a chance for change.” (Submitted by Armand Mackenzie)

For Armand MacKenzie, Innu lawyer, First Nations activist and residential school survivor, the apology is a meaningful gesture.

“Personally, as a former resident, it’s good news because it’s a message of reconciliation,” he said.

Additionally, he said it is a chance for Indigenous people to find peace from the horrors that happened in residential schools.

Over 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend residential schools between the 1880s and 1996, and over 60% of the schools were run by the Catholic Church.

MacKenzie said when the apology comes it will be up to Indigenous people to forgive, although many are still working to heal from decades of scarring and it will “probably take years to get there”.

“These occasions are a chance for change, to talk about these events, to tell stories about what each individual has gone through, and in my opinion, it will help to externalize what Indigenous peoples have gone through in Canada,” he said. -he declares.

Senator Michèle Audette says the Pope’s visit to Quebec will play a role in reconciliation. (Jean-Claude Taliana/CBC)

Senator Michèle Audette, from the Innu community of Uashat mak Mani-Utenam in Quebec and one of the five commissioners of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, says the Pope’s visit and apology in Canadian soil will play a role in reconciliation.

“It’s probably a chapter. A lot of people have been asking for this decades ago. And from there, it’s our responsibility for those who are alive today to make sure that reconciliation…will be alive in different ways. “, she said. .

Although Audette said she shared Picard’s disappointment with the pope’s plans to travel to Quebec, she said the visit was only a first step, as the healing process for victims and their loved ones is far from complete. to be finished.

“Accountability is important – transparency, dialogue, truth are important before talking about reconciliation,” she said.

“Let’s enjoy it, but let’s make sure the rest of us who are here every day recognize and [take] stock.”

Support is available to anyone affected by their residential school experience or recent reports.

A National Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line has been established to provide support to former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis hotline: 1-866-925-4419.