‘Career top five’: Meet the Métis delegate whose beadwork was gifted to the Pope

Click to play video: 'Indigenous delegations in Vatican City to meet Pope'
Indigenous delegations in Vatican City to meet Pope
The long-awaited meetings between Indigenous delegations and Pope Francis have commenced. Europe bureau chief Crystal Goomansingh has more from London – Mar 28, 2022

Warning: This story deals with disturbing subject matter that may upset and trigger some readers. Discretion is advised.

Métis historian and educator Mitchell Case spent more than 200 hours threading thousands of vintage beads into a stunning jacket worn before Pope Francis in a private audience on Monday.

He gifted the jacket to Métis National Council President Cassidy Caron before the delegation of eight Métis residential school survivors, leaders, elders and educators sat down with the Holy Father in Vatican City.

Case also gifted Pope Francis with a set of handmade moccasins — a grand showcase of his work that altogether, makes it a “career top five” for the seasoned beader.

“It’s pretty cool,” he told Global News in St. Peter’s Square after the meeting.

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“Frankly, for me, the biggest thing is that it’s our new president bringing that (jacket) forward and bringing that message forward from survivors.”

Métis National Council President Cassidy Caron wears the new jacket gifted to her by Métis historian and delegate Mitchell Case at their hotel in Rome on March 28, 2022, before their private audience with Pope Francis. Case also holds the moccasins he made that were gifted to the pontiff. Elizabeth McSheffrey

The jacket, whose designs come from communities across the country, carries great meaning. Its beads are more than a century old, and while their source is a trade secret, Case happily shared their significance.

“Those beads — they come from a time before residential schools. They come from a time before these crimes against humanity were committed against our people,” he explained.

“By doing that, it’s sort of our way of reaching past the pain to before that.”

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Click to play video: 'Indigenous leaders pushing Pope Francis for an apology'
Indigenous leaders pushing Pope Francis for an apology

The rich, floral pattern is inspired by Mother Earth — a reflection of where Métis people come from. Wearing flowers, he said, is like dressing up to look like their mother.

Case said it was a great honour to dress Caron, not only because Métis women have historically been the ones to dress their men, but because of the important words she spoke while wearing it.

“Today we invited Pope Francis and Catholics all around the world to join us, the Métis Nation, on our pathway of truth, justice and healing,” the president said in a press conference after their meeting with the pontiff.

“We are proud to be Métis. We are proud to still be here and to be celebrating who we are. We aren’t celebrating the meeting we just had with the Pope, but we’re celebrating being here together, being here together as one nation.”

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The moccasins made for Pope Francis are equally steeped in meaning; the flowers, beaded in the colours of the Vatican — white and yellow — are surrounded by the red, white and blue of Métis flags. The red elk hide represents the red shoes long worn by popes to accompany their garments.

“For anyone who knows Pope Francis, he doesn’t wear the red shoes — he opted out of that — but we decided to go ahead of it anyway as recognition that he doesn’t just walk alone,” said Case.

“He walks in the footsteps of those who came before him and he has a responsibility for their legacy, both the great and the terrible.”

Métis National Council President Cassidy Caron shows off the stunning moccasins gifted to Pope Francis on Mon. March 28, 2022, beaded by Métis delegate Mitchell Case. Elizabeth McSheffrey/Global News
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Case, Region 4 councillor for the Provisional Council of the Métis Nation of Ontario in Sault Ste. Marie, was brought to tears during a press conference after the delegates met the Holy Father on Monday morning. He praised the strength of the Métis residential school survivors who addressed the Pope: Elder Angie Crerar, Elder Emilien Janvier and Elder Antoinette Lafleur.

“In many ways, the opportunity for those three survivors to speak this morning — unfortunately, has been the first time any Métis survivors have been invited to say anything.”

Métis peoples have been excluded from the federal government’s $800-million settlement agreement for Sixties Scoop survivors.

Métis survivors have also been left out of some federal residential school settlements, and they were not included in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s seven-year mission to uncover what happened in the institutions of assimilation.

Click to play video: 'Metis experiences at residential schools'
Metis experiences at residential schools

The commission found that thousands of children were beaten, starved, raped and left to die of disease at the 139 institutions spread throughout Canada, and an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 never returned home.

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“To have essentially, officially to be told that what happened at one school was wrong, but if it happened at another school … well then it was okay? I don’t agree,” said Case.

“What happened was a crime against humanity and it happened to our survivors. It happened to our children, and that is, quite frankly, the unfinished business that is happening here.”

Case, a longtime defender of Métis rights and self-determination, said he wants to be angry about what happened but has been called upon to “be better” through Caron’s example.

He warned the bishops sitting next to him at the press conference, however, that if the funds raised in their communities for reconciliation don’t include Métis people, they would be hearing directly from him.

“Let’s get this right from the start,” he said.

“Our people continue to live in poverty, our people continue to live without. We sell Indian tacos at our community centers to try to pay for basic needs of people.”

The Inuit delegation also met Pope Francis on Monday and delivered a similar message on the need for an apology, sustained reconciliation, and the prosecution of known residential school abusers within the Catholic clergy. The next private audience will take place Thursday with the First Nations representatives.

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The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line (1-800-721-0066) is available 24 hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience.

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