Members of the National Indian Residential School Survivors Circle met with Catholic Bishops Wednesday in Winnipeg to discuss Pope Francis’ visit to Canada, and the wording to be included in his apology.
Former Assembly of First Nations regional chief Ken Young believes the meeting in Winnipeg will lead to positive outcomes when the Pope visits this summer.
“We’re going to get the work done and the Catholic church is going to be there supporting us,” Young said.
Young, along with former AFN national chief Phil Fontaine and other survivors were involved in the meeting.
“He’s coming to Canada, he’s coming to treaty land and he has to say ‘I am sorry for what happened to your people and your children on behalf of the Catholic church.’ How he says it is the prevailing outstanding issue,” said Young. “We expect, at least I expect, the Pope to apologize on behalf of the Catholic church in the right way.
“How that’s worked out in terms of words is something that we’ve agreed to work on with the bishops.”
The group has survivors from across Canada to help deal with various topics regarding residential schools and the Pope.
“We got all representatives from each of the regions across Canada to form our residential school survivors circle group here to deal with issues such as the apology that’s in front of us with the Pope’s visit to North America or to Alberta and some of the logistics we walked about and also the working relationship that we have ongoing with the bishops,” said interim chair for the survivors circle Ted Quewezance.
One of the main priorities the group is looking at is getting survivors to one of the three locations Pope Francis is visiting.
“The big priority right now is how do we get our survivors to Lac Ste. Anne’s or Edmonton where the Pope is coming to. We feel that for Manitoba and west, everybody will be going to Lac St. Anne’s because there are two events that we’re aware of in Edmonton,” said Quewezance.
During the roughly three-hour meeting, the survivors and archbishops came up with a draft statement for the Pope, although ultimately it will be up to the Vatican what he reads.
“As a group we met, we drafted a statement which basically states that the catholic church has to accept ownership and responsibility for what happened to First Nations people and their families. The negative experiences that we all had,” Young said.
Archbishop Richard Smith of the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton believes the Pope is committed to doing the right thing, but his health might not cooperate. The visits are scheduled for July 24 to 29 in Edmonton, Quebec City and Iqaluit.
“Probably the clearest indication of his desire to make this work is the fact that he’s coming at all. I’m delighted that he’s coming obviously as a bishop I’m very happy to see the Pope come here.
“But as I was sharing with the group earlier, I’m also astonished because of his health, his stamina, his limited mobility, and I wouldn’t be surprised, I do not know this but I wouldn’t be surprised if people were advising him not to travel at all,” Smith said.
Smith added that he and other bishops across Canada are committed to working with survivors.
“Certainly, the bishops in Canada are committed to walk with survivors, walk with all Indigenous peoples moving into the future,” he said.
While the survivors circle is hopeful for more meetings with the bishops in the near future to discuss these topics further, it’s unclear if or when those meetings will happen.