Chief in N.W.T. will have grandmother in his heart when he meets Pope Francis

In December, Dene Nation National Chief Norman Yakeleya, along with a dozen members of the Assembly of First Nations will board a flight to Rome.

The plan is to meet with Pope Francis and encourage him to apologize for the Catholic Church’s role in the residential school system.

A system that held his grandmother in its grip for six years.

“One of my grandmother’s spent six years of her life at the St. Peters residential school in Hay River,” he says. “And my grandmother, God love her, that she was kind and she always attended church.

“She told me stories about her life in the residential school, it’s amazing the power of forgiveness.”

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This month, Yakeleya accepted an invitation from Francis to travel to the Vatican from Dec. 17-20.

He says an apology would show commitment by the church to walk on the path of healing and respecting Indigenous Peoples.

“When I started working on residential schools in the late 90s there were 150,000 residential school survivors, today I’m one of them and today our number is 80,000,” he says. “So our history is going with us and the young generation needs to be educated, shared with our history.”

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops is paying for the trip.

On Wednesday, a release from the Vatican said that Francis has a “willingness” to travel to Canada.

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