Pope Francis to respond to First Nations, Inuit and Métis delegates in final audience

First Nations, Inuit and Métis delegates are meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Friday for a final audience after a week of discussions about the Roman Catholic Church's primary role in the residential school system.

Friday's visit to the Vatican concludes historic week of meetings with Pope about residential schools

First Nations, Inuit and Métis delegates are meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Friday for a final audience after a week of discussions about the Roman Catholic Church's primary role in Canada's residential school system.

All of the Indigenous delegates are scheduled to meet with Pope Francis at 12 p.m. local time for a public gathering. The Pope has been holding separate private meetings all week with First Nations, Inuit and Métis delegations.

Among other things, the delegates called on Pope Francis to finally issue an apology for the Church's role in residential schools, to intervene in the case of a fugitive Oblate priest wanted in Canada for a sex crimes and to rescind two papal decrees used to justify colonialism in the Americas.

Chief Wilton Littlechild, a former commissioner for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), said it was "a long walk to Rome" for the delegates who explained the ongoing impacts of the residential school experience to the leader of 1.3 billion Catholics.

"We didn't come just to complain. We offered solutions," said Littlechild, who attended three different residential schools over 14 years.

"It's been not just a one-way street. We talk about walking together."

Littlechild said Friday's meeting, which also falls on his 78th birthday, will be the "the first day of reconciliation."

Delegates want the Pope to apologize on Canadian soil

The Roman Catholic Church is the only institution that administered residential schools and has not yet formally apologized to survivors.

The TRC — which from 2008 to 2015 examined the record of Canada's residential school system — called for a papal apology as part of its 94 calls to action. The commission also urged all religious and faith groups to repudiate concepts used to justify European sovereignty over Indigenous lands and people.

"I'm hoping that [the Pope] will be more direct about his visit to Canada and about an apology. Not that he has to apologize here," said Phil Fontaine, a residential school survivor and former national chief for the Assembly of First Nations.

"Our preference is for the Holy Father to come to Canada, apologize on Canadian soil and do it on one of our territories. That is our hope and wish."

Colleen Jacob, the former chief of Xaxli'p First Nation in British Columbia, wrote about her experience attending residential school in a letter to the Pope delivered during his private meeting this week with Assembly of First Nations delegates.

Jacob said she can still remember vividly the bus picking her up for the first time in 1974, when she was just 7 years old.

She said she was dropped off and separated from her big brother.

"It was a big shock to me because back home I used to follow him everywhere," Jacob said. "I would cry when he wouldn't take me."

Jacob said the Pope needs to understand the harm caused by separating children from their families and communities.

"There's been so much that our people have gone through that I feel like we should have never have gone through," she said.

"A lot of the hardships that we experienced, it really wasn't ours to experience to begin with."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Olivia Stefanovich

Senior reporter

Olivia Stefanovich is a senior reporter for CBC's Parliamentary Bureau based in Ottawa. She previously worked in Toronto, Saskatchewan and northern Ontario. Connect with her on Twitter at @CBCOlivia. Story tips welcome: olivia.stefanovich@cbc.ca.

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