Indigenous leaders say Pope’s tour of Canada is ‘a missed opportunity’ for skipping British Columbia

Indigenous leaders in British Columbia expressed disappointment on Friday that Pope Francis’ trip to Canada did not include a stop in their province.

Pope Francis will be in Canada July 24-29, stopping in Quebec, Edmonton and Iqaluit.

The lack of stops in British Columbia on the route is not lost on Chief Rosanne Casimir of Tk̓emlúps te Secwépemc where the discovery of over 200 potential burial sites on the grounds of the Kamloops Indian Residential School sparked surveys at other sites across Canada.

“This is a missed opportunity to come to ‘ground zero’ and hear directly from survivors, intergenerational survivors and offer more words of apology, retaliation and reconciliation,” Casimir said in a statement.

WATCH | Indigenous leaders express disappointment with Pope’s itinerary:

Disappointment over the Pope’s itinerary during his next visit

The Vatican has announced that Pope Francis will visit Canada at the end of July, stopping in Edmonton, Quebec and Iqaluit. Some have expressed disappointment with his route.

In a statement, Terry Teegee, regional chief of the British Columbia Assembly of First Nations, called on the pope to reconsider his plans.

“This glaring oversight must be rectified immediately,” he said in a statement.

Archbishop Richard Smith, coordinator of the papal visit to Canada, said the trip was limited to just three “hubs” due to the pope’s mobility issues.

The 85-year-old pontiff recently canceled a planned trip to Lebanon and was photographed in a wheelchair for the first time.

Pope Francis arrives in a wheelchair to attend an audience with nuns and religious superiors in the Vatican’s Paul VI hall on May 5. The 85-year-old pontiff recently canceled a planned trip to Lebanon. (Alessandra Tarantino/Associated Press)

“What’s really driving this is the pope’s limited ability to move around,” Smith said from Edmonton on Friday.

“The Vatican has been very, very clear: when he comes to a country, he can’t fly in a helicopter, he can’t be in a car for more than an hour, he can’t be in a different place every night. .”

Federal Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu said Friday that the government welcomes the pope’s visit, but plans for where he will visit depend on the Vatican.

There are 139 former residential school sites across Canada, most of them operated by the Catholic Church. Pope Francis should visit some of them and repeat the apologies he made when visiting indigenous leaders in Rome.

Rosanne Casimir, chief of Tk̓emlúps te Secwépemc, says the pope is invited to visit the former site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School. (Doug Herbert/CBC)

Casimir is disappointed that the pope has no plans to visit the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School, the country’s largest residential school run by the Roman Catholic Church, or other sites in the province where unmarked graves have been found.

“He didn’t acknowledge the invitations to really come and meet with us and really walk these meaningful milestones in the future,” she said.

Casimir said there was an open invitation for the Pope to visit the site at any time, noting that there was an airport less than 15 minutes from the community.

“I’m going to keep some hope alive,” she said.

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 referral and crisis services by calling the 24-hour National Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419.