Saskatchewan First Nations leaders call for papal apology on Canadian soil

Chief Cadmus Delorme says he will speak with residential school survivors and members of the First Nation to see whether they would like to make a request for Pope Francis to visit Cowessess First Nation. David Baxter/Global News

First Nations leaders across Saskatchewan are calling on Pope Francis to visit the province and make an apology to residential school survivors.

It comes as the Vatican announced the Pope would visit Canada for Indigenous reconciliation on Oct. 27.

Chief Cadmus Delorme told reporters former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s apology for Canada’s role in residential schools had an impact on his late father, who was a residential school survivor.

“The Pope must now apologize and he must do it on Canadian soil,” the Cowessess First Nation chief said.

He noted that he had just learned of the Pope’s plans to visit Canada and a formal invitation has not been sent to the Vatican for Pope Francis to visit Cowessess First Nation.

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Chief Delorme noted he will speak with residential school survivors and the First Nation’s members before a decision is made.

“Unfortunately there are survivors who may never forgive or may never forget. But at least (we’re) hopeful that our next generations can be exactly what we all wanted at the beginning of our treaty relationship before residential schools came here.”

The Marieval Residential School, which sits on Cowessess First Nation, was operated by the Roman Catholic church.

In June, a ground radar search found 751 unmarked graves on the school’s property.

Click to play video: 'Cowessess First Nation holds vigil for residential school victims'
Cowessess First Nation holds vigil for residential school victims

The Saskatoon Tribal Council believes the Pope should stop in Saskatchewan during his visit.

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“This is where all the negative things happened to Indigenous children and he should come to treaty lands and address the treaty people about how it affected their lives in a negative way. Now we’re trying to rebuild that,” Tribal Chief Mark Arcand told Global News.

A Canadian delegation composed of Indigenous leaders, elders and residential school survivors is set to meet with the Pope at the end of the year.

“It’s going to be pretty meaningful that he picks the right place to come to. It’s a good step in the right direction. I hope people want him to come because they deserve that apology from the highest level of the churches and that is Pope Francis,” Arcand added.

The Tribal Chief noted that the Pope should also offer funding for survivors so they can access support helping them heal from time spent in residential schools.

Meanwhile Chief Delorme hopes an apology could help reset the relationship between Indigenous people and the Catholic church.

“An apology is the beginning of a new relationship. What is the end of that new relationship? We don’t know. But an apology is validation that the Roman Catholic church and the millions of people who follow the church … this is about a relationship with Indigenous people in Canada and the Roman Catholic church. So an apology will reset a new relationship and that is where it must start,” he said.

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A date for Pope Francis’ Canadian trip has not been set.

The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419) is available 24 hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience.

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