‘We are stronger now’: Métis and Inuit delegates have their moment with the pope

Métis and Inuit delegates

Métis National Council President Cassidy Caron holds a news conference outside the Vatican on Monday. Photo: Simon Charland/APTN.

The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line (1-800-721-0066) is available 24 hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience.

The experience of Métis residential school students is not well known but that changed Monday when Pope Francis heard firsthand from Métis residential school survivor Angie Crerar of Grand Prairie, Alta.

Crerar was one of three survivors in the eight-member Métis delegation that met with the pontiff on Monday.

“We are stronger now and we help each other we support each other and one thing we have now is our pride. They didn’t break us, we are still here and we intend to live here forever and we’ll have them work with us, which for us is awesome,” she said at a news conference after the meeting.

The Métis gift to the pontiff was a pair of red moccasins created by Mitch Case – who also designed a beaded jacket for Métis National Council President Cassidy Caron to wear for the meeting.

Sharing survivors’ stories are only one step in the Métis Nation’s reconciliation journey, Cassidy Caron, president of the Métis National Council, said after the one-hour meeting.

“Reconciliation did not begin today with a meeting with Pope Francis and it doesn’t end here either,” she added. “This is just one stepping stone on that journey.”

Caron said all three groups representing Indigenous Peoples in Canada share a history but have unique experiences.

“We hope that the pope heard our stories; that he acknowledges and truly understands. That he translates those stories from his head to his heart and then into action.”

Métis and Inuit delegates
Métis delegates outside the Vatican after their meeting with Pope Francis. Photo: Simon Charland/APTN.

The Indigenous groups want the pope to come to Canada and issue an apology for the harm caused by the Catholic Church in the country’s 100-year residential school system.

An estimated 150,000 Métis, Inuit and First Nations children were forced to attend the government-sponsored schools that were staffed by churches. The last residential school closed in 1996.

After individual meetings with the three groups, the pope is expected to speak with all of them on Friday.

“We know that when he does come to visit us in Canada, he will know some of those stories from the Métis Nation,” Caron added. “That’s exactly what we intended to do today.”

Watch Tina House’s story from Rome 

The Inuit delegation also met with Pope Francis.

Martha Greig from Nunavik is a residential school survivor who was also present at the meeting with the pope as a mental health support worker.

“What I told the pope is that there is a need for people to heal and there has to be a point of forgiveness from both parts,” she told reporters in Rome after the meeting.

“If you don’t forgive it eats at you though you don’t forget. There has to be a healing movement along with the people and the Catholic people, the churches so that’s something that’s really needed to work hand in hand so that our people can rise from all the hurts that’s been done to them.

“I also invited him to come to Canada because I think it’s very appropriate if he does come it would mean more to the former residential school students and the families… so that’s something that would be really meaningful.”

The president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami asked Pope Francis Monday to intervene personally in the unresolved case of Johannes Rivoire, a retired Roman Catholic priest living in France linked to sex abuse allegations in Nunavut.

Natan Obed, who speaks for all Inuit in Canada, said he made the request as part of an “hour-long encounter” with the pontiff and eight-member Inuit delegation to the Vatican in Rome.

“We asked that the pope speak with Fr. Rivoire directly and ask him to go to Canada to face the charges that he’s up on in Canada,” said Obed.

“And, if Fr. Rivoire is not agreeable to that, if the pope would do all that he could to work with the French government to ensure that either extradition can happen or that Fr. Rivoire can be tried in France.”

The RCMP charged Rivoire, an Oblate priest, with three sex crimes involving minors after he left Canada for France in 1993. Rivoire worked in several Arctic communities from 1960 to 1974.

The First Nation delegation is scheduled to see him on Thursday.

With files from Kathleen Martens

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