Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Chief Rosanne Casimir said Thursday it would be “deeply meaningful” to have the Pope visit, but the pontiff must accept and apologize for the Catholic Church’s role in Canada’s residential school system.
“It’d be a historic moment for Kamloops Residential Indian School Survivors and for our community who continues to navigate the impacts following the horrific confirmation of the missing children,” Casimir said.
“For the Pope to come to Canada without real action, with simply the objective of reconciliation, glosses over and ignores this hard truth. Though some may wish for reconciliation, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc is still saddled with the truth of identifying hundreds of child victims from the Kamloops Indian Residential School.”
Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc sent shockwaves throughout Canada this spring after it announced it had found what are believed to be the unmarked graves of 215 children at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.
Since then, other First Nations have identified possible remains at several residential schools across Canada, the majority of which were presided over by the Catholic Church.
Indigenous leaders have been calling on Pope Francis to apologize for the church’s role in the system and to do so on Canadian soil.
The Vatican said Wednesday the Pope has agreed to visit Canada to help efforts at reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.
The Holy See’s press office said the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops invited the pope to make an apostolic journey to Canada “also in the context of the long-standing pastoral process of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.”
In return, Francis “has indicated his willingness to visit the country on a date to be settled in due course,” the statement said.
Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme has said a papal visit would be a step toward reconciliation but added it would have to come with an apology from the church to validate the pain many survivors still live with.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald also echoed the call for a “long overdue” apology.
In a statement Thursday, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc is also calling on the church to disclose documents on residential schools to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and to raise funds for residential school survivors.
“For the ‘truth’ component of Truth and Reconciliation, there has to be an acknowledgment, of the true role of the Catholic Church in the deaths of children placed in their care,” the statement reads.
“The missing children, whom Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc refer to as Le Estcwéý, exemplify Indian Residential Schools as a system that perpetuated mass human rights violations that may suggest criminal behaviour, including violations of international humanitarian law, and genocide.”
Pope Francis has already agreed to meet with Indigenous survivors at the Vatican in December. He will meet separately with three groups — First Nations, Metis and Inuit — during the Dec. 17 to 20 visit.
The Pope will then preside over a final audience with all three groups on Dec. 20.
Casimir was confirmed to be a part of the December visit, representing British Columbia as per the British Columbia Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Terry Teegee.
The Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program has a hotline to help residential school survivors and their relatives suffering trauma invoked by the recall of past abuse. The number is 1-866-925-4419.
— with files from The Associated Press and The Canadian Press.