Indigenous communities ‘expect more’ from Pope’s visit, says Governor General Mary Simon


WARNING: This story contains disturbing details.

Indigenous communities are “expecting more” from Pope Francis when he visits Canada in July, Governor General Mary Simon said, but she said she was unsure he would deliver on his promises.

The Pope apologizes for ‘deplorable abuses’ in boarding schools when indigenous delegations traveled to Rome in April, but the pontiff was criticized for speaking out the conduct of certain members of the Catholic Church, rather than taking responsibility for the role of the wider institution.

The First Nations community is also concerned that the qualified apology did not address the issue of compensation, document disclosure or the extradition and prosecution of those known to have participated in abuses.

The pontiff will visit Canada in July and is expected reiterate the apology on indigenous lands.

“I suspect it will be like what he said in the Vatican, but people expect more – for him to include the Church as an institution,” Simon said. The stream Matt Galloway interviewed at Rideau Hall.

“I don’t know if that will happen or not…I’m just talking about some of the expectations that I’ve heard from some Indigenous leaders,” she said.

WATCH | Apologies can help healing, says Governor General Mary Simon:

Apologies Can Help Heal, Says Governor General Mary Simon

The pope is expected to reiterate his apology for residential schools when he visits Canada in July, but some communities want more, Governor General Mary Simon has said.

Simon was appointed Governor General of Canada last July — the first Indigenous person to hold the position — after a decades-long career as an Inuit leader and advocate for Indigenous rights.

In the 1970s and 1980s, she negotiated landmark agreements that saw provincial and federal governments recognize Indigenous rights. She served as Ambassador for Circumpolar Affairs in the late 1990s, concurrently serving as Canada’s Ambassador to Denmark from 1999 to 2001.

As Governor General, Simon said part of her role is to raise awareness of what has happened to Indigenous peoples and “to find that conversation that allows people to understand why reconciliation is needed.”

Simon listens to Sandy Emudluk and Janice Parsons while touring Nunavik, Quebec, his native region. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

“This whole era of colonization and residential schools was not known to many Canadians,” she said. “In fact, I’ve spoken to many Canadians who didn’t know there was a boarding school around the hill in some towns.”

She sees her tenure as one that can “bring this conversation together in a way that will allow us to tell our stories, be more respectful of each other, and give space to different cultures and different languages.”

She said it’s a difficult task, but she noted that reconciliation is something that needs to happen “every day – it’s a journey, it’s our way of life.”

Apologies for historic abuses, such as the one requested from the pope, are an important part of this process, which can allow “people to heal in many ways,” she said.

“But it can’t just be words, it has to be followed by action.”

Calls for royal apologies

Earlier this month, Indigenous leaders also called for Queen Elizabeth apologizes for the operation of boarding schools and for harmful effects of colonization.

Simon met the Queen in March, but she said this conversation was about reconciliation in a more general sense.

Queen Elizabeth met Simon and her husband Whit Fraser at Windsor Castle in Windsor, England, in March. (Associated Press/Steve Parsons)

She said her mandate as Governor General was to represent the Queen in Canada and work with Indigenous communities and Canadians – but she said she was ‘not involved in political matters with this work’ .

She can see where the calls for an apology may be coming from, “and how that might evolve, but right now I’m not getting too involved in that part.”

Trudeau heckled due to community grief: Simon

Simon was in Kamloops, British Columbia last week to a ceremony to mark one year since the Tk̓emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation announced preliminary findings indicating the remains of 215 children buried at a site adjacent to the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke at the Kamloops event, but he was heckled by some of those presentchanting “Canada is all Indian land” and “We don’t need your Constitution”.

Trudeau told the crowd that he heard their concerns and that his government was committed to joining Indigenous communities in their journey to healing.

WATCH | First Nation will work with PM, despite anger, Governor General says:

Trudeau heckled by grief and anger, says Governor General Mary Simon

Premier Justin Trdueau was heckled recently at an event in Kamloops, British Columbia, but Governor General Mary Simon says that doesn’t mean the Tk̓emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation won’t work with him.

Simon said the heckling was an expression of anger born of grief, conveyed “to the man who represents the country”.

But she said that doesn’t mean the community won’t ultimately work with Trudeau and the Canadian government – adding that Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Kukpi7 Chief Rosanne Casimir told her the First Nation would find ways for them to work together.

“I think we need to allow people to deal with this grief,” Simon said. “Probably the next time the Prime Minister goes it will be very different.”

Although residential school abuse was documented by the Truth and Reconciliation CommissionSimon said evidence of unmarked graves last year seemed to wake Canadians up to what had happened.

She felt the need to travel to Kamloops and support those affected by the confirmation of burial sites, from elders to younger people living with intergenerational trauma.

“It meant a lot to me as an individual to be able to do this – and to support them on their journey to deal with these atrocities,” she said.

British Columbia Lieutenant Governor Janet Austin, Chief Tk̓emlúps te Secwépemc Kukpi7 Rosanne Casimir and Simon at a ceremony honoring children who died at residential schools in Kamloops, British Columbia, last week. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Creating a better country, together

Simon said she believes Canada is moving towards reconciliation and she sees the conversation unfolding in more and more places in society.

“I was in a school yesterday in Victoria and you know five and six year olds were talking about reconciliation in their own way and asking me questions,” she said.

“That’s what I love about my job, it’s talking to students.”

She wants to help people find ways to live together with respect, with equal opportunities and the freedom to express different cultures, languages ​​and diversity.

“Canada is such a diverse country, it’s not just about Indigenous people and Canadians, but all Canadians who need to talk to each other,” she said.

“I think it’s really important for people to realize that each of us has a responsibility to create a better country, and we have to do it together.”


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.


Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Julie Crysler and Paul MacInnis.