The visit comes after unmarked graves were discovered in “boarding schools”, many of which were run by the Catholic Church.
Disclaimer: The story below contains details about residential schools that may be upsetting. The Crisis Line for Residential School Survivors and Families of Canada is available 24 hours a day at 1-866-925-4419.
Indigenous leaders will travel from Canada to the Vatican in late March to meet with the Pope to discuss the role of the Roman Catholic Church in Canada’s “residential school” system following multiple discoveries of unmarked graves at the ancient sites.
In a joint statement Tuesday, the Catholic Bishops of Canada, the Assembly of First Nations, the Métis National Council and the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami said the delegation’s visit would take place in late March and early April.
The trip had been postponed from December due to concerns about the spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
“We remain committed to marching toward healing and reconciliation and look forward to the opportunity for Indigenous Elders, Knowledge Keepers, Residential School Survivors and youth to meet with Pope Francis,” the groups said.
Hundreds of unmarked graves have been discovered at former residential school sites across Canada since May, when 215 were uncovered at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in the Western Province of British Columbia (BC. ).
In the most recent discovery, Williams Lake First Nation in British Columbia announced last week that preliminary results from the first phase of a geophysical search at St Joseph Mission Residential School revealed 93 “reflections” – believed to be unmarked graves.
Canada forced more than 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children to attend residential schools between the late 1800s and the 1990s. Indigenous children were stripped of their languages and culture and subjected to psychological abuse , physical and sexual.
Thousands of people are believed to have died while attending the institutions, which were run by various churches, including the Roman Catholic Church. A federal commission of inquiry into the institutions, known as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC), concluded in 2015 that the system amounted to “cultural genocide”.
In its final report (PDF), the TRC called on the pope to apologize to residential school survivors, their families and communities “for the role of the Roman Catholic Church in spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical abuse. and Sexual Rights of First Nations”. , Inuit and Métis in Catholic boarding schools”.
“We ask that this apology be similar to the 2010 apology presented to Irish victims of abuse and that it occur within one year of the publication of this report and be presented by the Pope in Canada,” said the Commission.
In June, Pope Francis expressed his “sorrow” at the discovery of the unmarked graves at the Kamloops Indian residential school, but refrained from issuing the long-sought apology by residential school survivors.
The Catholic Church and the Canadian government have also been called upon to release all records relating to the facilities, as survivors and Indigenous leaders continue to demand justice and accountability for the crimes committed there.
On January 20, the Canadian government said it had reached an agreement with the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR), a research center that operates out of the University of Manitoba in central Canada, “which describes how and when Canada will share historical information. documents” relating to the institutions.
Stephanie Scott, executive director of the NCTR, said at the time that the agreement was “another step on the path laid out for us by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission”.