Residential school survivors demand papal visit to Kamloops, B.C., want comment on expected apology


WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

More than a dozen First Nations residential school survivors across the country plan to lobby Roman Catholic bishops for comment on the pope’s planned stops during his July visit to Canada and the words the pontiff will use. in his long-awaited apology on the boarding school on Canadian soil.

The survivors are holding two days of talks in Winnipeg before meeting with the Canadian bishops on Wednesday. They hope the meeting will lead to the signing of a new covenant committing the Roman Catholic Church to further engage with First Nations before and after the arrival of Pope Francis in Canada.

“Now is the time to choose,” said Ted Quewezance, a survivor from Keeseekoose First Nation in Saskatchewan who co-chairs the meetings.

“The Catholic Church must make the choice of true reconciliation for families and communities.

Quewezance said he was trying to revive the Society of Indian Residential School Survivors, which he previously led, to strengthen the voice of survivors ahead of the Pope’s visit.

Pope Francis first apologized to Indigenous delegates visiting the Vatican on April 1 for the deplorable conduct of some Church members in residential schools.

Regina Archbishop Donald Bolen, left, and Keeseekoose First Nation delegate Ted Quewezance are shown during their visit to meet Pope Francis in Rome March 30. (Olivia Stefanovitch/CBC)

Although Quewezance said he found the solution, he wants to ensure that any apology the pontiff should make to Canada is accompanied by a plan outlining the church’s next steps to work with survivors.

“It has to have substance,” he said.

“Just because there are excuses, does it stop there? There are families within our communities who are still hurting today, and it’s painful when you see that.”

Survivors want to be consulted during papal visit

The Pope’s apology to the Vatican did not address the role the Church played in running the majority of residential schools in Canada, as requested by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“He didn’t say he was sorry that the Catholic Church caused the damage done to residential school survivors,” said survivor Kenneth Young, who organizes the meetings.

“That’s what he should say.”

The locations chosen for the papal visit are also a point of contention.

“We’re going to try to convince the pope to visit Kamloops,” said Young, a former lawyer and Manitoba regional chief of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation Assembly of First Nations.

What are believed to be more than 200 unmarked graves containing the remains of children were discovered in British Columbia last year by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, which was run by the Roman Catholic Church.

A growing memorial is displayed outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia on June 4, 2021. It was erected to honor the children whose remains were believed to have been discovered in unmarked graves at the site. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Although Pope Francis is personally invited to the community by Kúkpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir, he is scheduled to visit Edmonton, Quebec and Iqaluit July 24-29.

Kamloops is “walking distance from Edmonton,” Young said. “The bishops should have consulted us.”

Travel cost is an issue for survivors

Regina Archbishop Donald Bolen acknowledged there was high demand to visit Kamloops, but he believes the 85-year-old pope will have to work from three locations due to his health.

Pope Francis suffers from a chronic nerve condition called sciatica, which causes pain from the lower back to the legs.

“Here in Saskatchewan, Kamloops is not where the controversy is,” said Bolen, who is one of three bishops who have pledged to meet with survivors.

“It’s that the pope doesn’t come here… We’re a little sad.”

WATCH | The Fifth Estate investigation into the discovery of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc:

The Reckoning: Secrets Unarthed by Tk’emlups te Secwepemc

The Fifth Estate shows how a British Columbia First Nation copes with the traumatic discovery of what are believed to be children’s graves near a former residential school, as they attempt to pave the way for other communities grappling with a similar tragic story.

Quewezance, of the Keeseekoose First Nation in Saskatchewan, does not know how many survivors will travel to the Winnipeg talks as some struggle to secure travel funds from their local diocese.

He also said that not all the bishops invited had accepted the request to attend.

“There is a bit of resistance from bishops across the country,” Quewezance said.

Bolen said he had looked into the matter and believed that any survivors who wished to leave would have their costs covered. It pays for the travel expenses of three survivors from Saskatchewan to attend the talks in Winnipeg, including for Quewezance.

“Survivors present an invitation and a challenge to the Canadian Church and to Canadian society as a whole,” Bolen said.

“I encourage others in the church and in society at large to accept this invitation to engage personally and directly with survivors.”

The survivors have also applied for funding from the federal government, but a spokesperson for the Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations said the application is still being reviewed.

More than 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were forced to attend government-funded boarding schools run by the Catholic, Anglican and other churches between the 1870s and 1997.

A chance to ‘turn the corner’ of a fractured relationship

In addition to the Pope’s trip, the survivors intend to discuss the repatriation of indigenous cultural objects from the Vatican and obtaining documents for residential schools and land used by the Church for residential schools.

Phil Fontaine, one of the first survivors to publicly break his silence on residential school abuse, co-chairs the meetings with Quewezance.

He said he expects the bishops to be as cooperative with survivors as they were before the trip to Rome in the early spring.

“We actually believe there’s an opportunity here to turn around the very fractured relationship between our community and the Catholic Church,” Fontaine, a former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations from Sagkeeng First Nation, told Reuters. Manitoba.

Members of delegations from the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit and Métis in Canada listen to Pope Francis as he addresses them during a final audience April 1 at the Vatican. (Vatican Media/Reuters)

“There is so much work to do to right the many wrongs that have been inflicted on our people and our communities, and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has a tremendous responsibility in this regard.”

They also plan to talk about continuing to push the Roman Catholic Church to rescind the Doctrine of Discovery, which would respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 49th Call to Action.

It calls on all religious and faith groups to reject the concepts used to justify European sovereignty over indigenous lands and peoples.

The Doctrine of Discovery, which is based largely on papal bulls issued in the late 15th century by Pope Nicholas V and Pope Alexander VI, declared that lands held by indigenous peoples were zero earth – Latin for “nobody’s land” – and gave the church’s blessing to the claims of explorers in Africa and the Americas.

The Catholic Church is the first institution the survivors try to work with, but they say it won’t be the last.

“Canada needs to be part of the process, the Catholic Church and all churches,” said survivor Kenneth Young.


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.