Childhood memories flooded back to Angie Crerar, an elder from the Métis Nation of Alberta, as she embarked on her journey to Rome for a historic encounter with Pope Francis.
The 85-year-old survivor of the residential school system is one of eight mixed-race delegates who will meet the pope privately for an hour Monday at the Vatican.
The Métis delegation is the first of three indigenous delegations, with members of First Nations and Inuit, who are due to meet with the Pope this week to discuss the impact of the role of the Roman Catholic Church in the operation of the majority of residential schools. in Canada, and how the church can try to make amends.
“Very excited, very humbled, so grateful,” she said.
On the way to Rome, Crerar wore a dark blue blazer and a red Métis sash that represents the blood the Métis have shed fighting for their rights.
As she waited to leave Pierre-Elliott-Trudeau International Airport in Montreal, Crerar remembered what had helped her survive nearly a decade of residential school.
“Even though they tried to change us, to say our family was no good…my mom and dad taught us kindness, love, respect,” Crerar said.
It is with this sentiment that Crerar focuses his message to Pope Francis not only for an apology, but also to help identify the lost children of residential schools.
“These children have the right to have a name and an identity,” Crerar said.
Request for Access to All Church and Boarding School Records
Métis National Council President Cassidy Caron will help Crerar push for unfettered access to church and residential school records with the pope and other church officials the delegation plans to meet this week , including Roman Catholic cardinals.
“Giving names to children is extremely important in the healing journey of our people,” Caron said.
“We will be advocating for this with Pope Francis as well as many other church leaders, whom we will meet throughout this week.”
Crerar said she will never forget the day in 1946 when she not only became a student at a boarding school, but also the mother of her two younger sisters aged five and three.
The RCMP took her and her siblings on a plane from Yellowknife after her mother died of tuberculosis.
“I have a lot of scars,” Crerar said. “I wear [them] with pride.”
Crerar spent nine years at St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic School in Fort Resolution, Northwest Territories, from age eight to 17.
Audrey Poitras, a longtime friend of Crerar and president of the Métis Nation of Alberta, sat with her arm around her at Gate 60 on Sunday.
Poitras called Crerar last October to tell her she had been chosen by the Métis Nation to be part of its main delegation to Vatican meetings.
“She [Crerar] said to me, “I’m going with you,” said Poitras. “I said, ‘But I’m not going,’ and she was like, ‘Well, I’m going with you.’
Poitras will not be in the room for Monday’s private meeting between the Métis delegation and Pope Francis, but will watch from a screen in an adjoining room.
She will also attend the pontiff’s final audience on Friday, which will be public and will include members of all Métis, First Nations and Inuit delegations, as well as their family members and support members.
In 2004, Poitras said Crerar pushed her to collect stories about Métis residential school survivors because she felt it was time to tell them.
The book Métis Memories of Indian Residential Schools contains the stories of 24 Métis residential school survivors, including Crerar.
“I’m really happy to be able to accompany her and share with her another step in her journey,” said Poitras.
“He’s the person I look up to.”
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.