Saskatchewan residential school survivors and Indigenous leaders say they are disappointed Pope Francis is not stopping in their province this summer.
They are also unhappy with the Vatican, not the survivors, who decided the pontiff would only land in Edmonton, Quebec and Iqaluit.
“It’s pretty disappointing,” Kinistin Saulteaux Nation Chief Felix Thomas said. “The problem from the start [of the residential school system] is that we had no say. And we saw how well it worked.”
In 2017, Thomas and others worked for months to bring Francis to Wanuskewin Heritage Park, a gathering place for Indigenous people for more than 5,000 years near what is now Saskatoon. They followed the advice and protocols of local communities, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) and the Assembly of First Nations.
The effort failed, but Thomas hoped the works would result in a stopover at Wanuskewin on this trip.
The FSIN lobbied last week for a visit to Muskowekwan First Nation, the site of Saskatchewan’s last residential school. He also said the survivors should have dictated where the pope went, not the church.
FSIN leader Bobby Cameron said even after delegations traveled to Rome earlier this year for the Pope’s first apology, many leaders in Canada had no idea what was going to happen around of this visit.
“What is the term reconciliation when there is no inclusion?” Cameron asked. “What’s reconciliation when they keep dictating what they’re going to do, when they’re going to do it, how they’re going to do it?”
Survivor Rick Daniels agreed. Daniels was in Wanuskewin on Friday to mentor a group of university students.
“It should have been up to us, not the Vatican,” he said.
Daniels and his niece, intergenerational survivor Lori-Ann Daniels, say it’s not just about apologies.
An apology will be meaningless unless the Catholic Church and the Vatican act on a series of injustices and broken promises first, they say.
This includes the release of school documents and unmarked remains discovered across the country. This includes using some of the tens of billions of dollars in Vatican assets to honor financial commitments made in a settlement agreement more than a decade ago. It also includes a repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery, which has been used to justify colonialism and centuries of oppression against Indigenous peoples.
“For me, as an intergenerational survivor, an apology isn’t what I need. It’s about action,” Lori-Ann Daniels said. “The church keeps saying ‘We’ll get back to you’ or ‘We’re working on it.’ In the meantime, hundreds of survivors continue to die. When are they going to take this seriously?”
Métis survivor Antoinette LaFleur, who is from Beauval and attended the Île-à-la-Crosse residential school, said she could not count on promises from the church or the government, and that the communities needed to find ways to help each other heal.
“The past has hurt us a lot, but now is the time to address our issues and move on,” she said.
LaFleur said she would try to make it to Edmonton when Francis visits, but Rick and Lori-Ann Daniels say they probably won’t.
The bishops of Canada issued their first-ever national apology to survivors last fall and announced a new fundraising effort. The commitment was to raise $30 million over five years.