Indigenous people made history in Rome. Here’s how some want that history recorded

Click to play video: 'Reflecting on the Pope’s historic residential school apology'
Reflecting on the Pope’s historic residential school apology
Pope Francis officially apologized for the Catholic Church’s role in Canada’s residential school system, capping off a historic week in the Vatican. President of the Inuit Tapiritt Kanatami Natan Obed was among the Indigenous delegates who travelled to Rome to meet with the Pope and hear the apology. ‘The West Block’ host Mercedes Stephenson gets Obed’s thoughts on the apology and asks him what he wants to see from the church going forward. – Apr 3, 2022

First Nations, Métis and Inuit delegates wrapped up a historic delegation to Rome last week, receiving an unprecedented apology from Pope Francis related to residential schools.

Before nearly 200 people, the head of the Catholic Church asked for forgiveness for the pain and suffering caused by some members of the clergy in the institutions of assimilation, which operated between the 1830s and 1990s.

The pontiff said he was “deeply grieved” by the stories of “suffering, hardship, discrimination and various forms of abuse” he heard throughout the week. He extended a hand of friendship, promising to visit Canada and work together to bring an end to “colonial mentality.”

Opinions differ on whether Pope Francis’s words were sufficient or appropriate, given the number of requests from survivors that he did not address in his televised speech on April 1. There is little doubt, however, that the apology, the delegation and all it achieved will be written into the Canadian history books.

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Between March 28 and April 1, Global News asked Indigenous delegates, their friends and family in Rome how they would like the events of the week to be recorded in those books, which may be read by children in school for generations to come.

Click to play video: 'Responding to the Pope’s apology for residential schools'
Responding to the Pope’s apology for residential schools

Maya Fontaine

Phil Fontaine’s daughter

I’d like the history books to reflect the tremendous amount of hard work and commitment that the delegates and the survivors have put forth over the years. I’d like to I’d like the history books to acknowledge all the people who couldn’t be here today — survivors. I have aunts and uncles, grandparents, that went to residential schools and this is really for them as well. I think it would have meant so much to be told, ‘We understand that this caused you great harm and we acknowledge it and we’re accountable.'”

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Phil Fontaine’s daughter, Maya Fontaine, is flanked by her two daughters, Aluk Fontaine Richardson (left) and Ella Fontaine Richardson during the Indigenous delegation to the Vatican on March 29, 2022. Elizabeth McSheffrey/Global News

Kúkpi7 Rosanne Casimir

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British Columbia delegate, chief of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc

“When I look at my grandchild and her grandchild, what they’ll be learning in the education books is the real history — the Canadian history, the First Nations history, the history of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc and all First Nations who have had residential schools and poor Indian hospitals…. History has been made (this week). There were some steps that needed to be taken and were taken from the highest level.”

Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Kúkpi7 Rosanne Casimir speaks with journalists outside Vatican City on March 31, 2022, after First Nations delegates completed a two-hour private meeting with Pope Francis. Elizabeth McSheffrey/Global News

Adeline Webber

Yukon delegate, residential school survivor and member of Teslin Tlingit Nation

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“The history books have to write the truth – the truth about the situation, the history of why residential schools were put in place. It was not to educate Indian children, it was to assimilate them into the white society and to actually get rid of the language, the history and that sort of thing. That’s what is really important for them to understand.”

Yukon delegate Adeline Webber listens as Dene National Chief Gerald Antoine speaks to reporters in Rome on April 1, 2022, after a historic meeting with Pope Francis. Elizabeth McSheffrey/Global News

Gary Gagnon

Métis delegate, cultural facilitator, vice-president for Region 4 of the Métis Nation of Alberta

“We came with our elders, we came with our survivors, we came with our leadership and Cassidy Caron, and we came with our open hearts. I just want Canada to know — or wherever this may be — that we’re telling our story and our stories are what connects us in this world. We need more positive stories.”

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Gary Gagnon, a cultural facilitator, member of the Canadian Catholic Indigenous Council and vice-president for Region 4 of the Métis Nation of Alberta, poses for a photo in Rome on March 28, 2022, after Métis delegates met Pope Francis.

Phil Fontaine

Manitoba delegate, residential school survivor and member of Sagkeeng First Nation

“What emerges from this in terms of the stories to be told will be determined by our people and I’m certain much of it will be positive. Will it emerge as the perfect story? I don’t think so, there isn’t anything that’s perfect. There’s always a flaw that some people will find, but aside from that, this moment here is of critical importance to us, to our story, our place in Canada. And I’m convinced that we will emerge after this moment even stronger than we’ve become.”

Click to play video: '‘The world is watching’: Indigenous leader Phil Fontaine’s mission to get a papal apology'
‘The world is watching’: Indigenous leader Phil Fontaine’s mission to get a papal apology

Cindy Woodhouse

Assembly of First Nations regional chief for Manitoba

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“I’m glad that moments like this are going to be captured, documented and, you know, translated into different languages, and that people will hear the stories of many of the knowledge keepers and residential school survivors that are here…. I just think that there’s so much to learn. I haven’t learned everything, but Canadian children and children around the world should read about what had happened before and that there was residential schools that hurt children, and that we changed from that.”

Manitoba Regional Chief Cindy Woodhouse of the Assembly of First Nations poses for a photo with her son Kolt at their hotel in Rome on March 30, 2022. Woodhouse was part of an expanded delegation of Indigenous peoples who sat in a general audience with Pope Francis on April 1. Elizabeth McSheffrey/Global News

Katsitsionni Fox

Spiritual advisor from Akwesasne Mohawk territory

“Hopefully it gets written about because I’ve been an educator for over 20 years. I just left in June. One thing that I noticed in curriculum is that Indigenous people are almost invisible … what is written is written from another perspective, so I think it’s time now to flip that narrative and start telling our own stories and to start sharing things from multiple perspectives. I think the world is ready for that now. I’d like for people to know that we came to represent and that we came in honour of all those ones that couldn’t come here. I think you have to make a stand, you have to be the voice if you’re given that responsibility.”

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Katsitsionni Fox, a spiritual advisor for the Indigenous delegation to Rome, sings ‘Sky World,’ in honour of residential school victims and survivors, at the delegation’s final press conference on April 1, 2022. Elizabeth McSheffrey/Global News

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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