Métis and Inuit delegates meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican

By The Canadian Press and Claire Fenton

Emotional support or assistance for those who are affected by the residential school system can be found at Indian Residential School Survivors Society toll-free 1 (800) 721-0066 or 24-hr Crisis Line 1 (866) 925-4419.

Métis and Inuit delegates met with Pope Francis at the Vatican in two separate meetings Monday, as a historic week began for Indigenous people who continue to seek an apology and a way forward from the church’s role in Canada’s residential school system.

Following the meeting, the president of the Métis National Council says she felt heard as she shared her stories. Cassidy Caron says the Pope spoke of healing in their conversation.

However, Caron says Francis did not provide an apology for the church’s role in residential schools. But, she adds, they have always requested it take place on Canadian soil.

“While the time for acknowledgement, apology, and atonement is long overdue, it is never too late to do the right thing,” she said.

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The Metis delegation presented the Pope with a pair of red, beaded moccasins as a sign of their willingness to forgive if there is meaningful action from the church.

The group says the red dye represents that even though Pope Francis does not wear the traditional red papal shoes, “he walks with the legacy of those who came before him — the good, the great and the terrible.”

The leader of the national organization representing Inuit people spoke with Pope Francis in a later meeting. Natan Obed says their conversations surrounded the truth about residential schools and holding members of the Roman Catholic Church who have committed crimes to account.

“There were also positive conversations about the role that the Catholic church can play in reconciliation and Inuit communities moving forward,” Obed said.

First Nations leaders will speak with the Pope on Thursday, ahead of another meeting Friday with all three groups.

An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend residential schools. More than 60 per cent of the schools were run by the Catholic Church.

There are a total of 32 Indigenous elders, leaders, survivors and youth taking part in the meetings at the Vatican. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has organized and is paying for the delegation, is also sending some members.

Rev. Raymond Poisson, the group’s president, has said he expects the meetings to allow Pope Francis to address the ongoing trauma and legacy of suffering faced by Indigenous people to this day.

“As well as the role of the Catholic Church in the residential school system, which contributed to the suppression of Indigenous languages, culture and spirituality,” he said.

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