The president of the Manitoba Metis Federation (MMF) says Pope Francis’ apology for Canada’s residential schools was a heartfelt one, and will help to determine the path forward between Indigenous People and the church.
David Chartrand was part of the MMF delegation to the Vatican for an audience with the pope Thursday, which included elders, residential school survivors, and youth.
The meeting follows another historic papal apology three weeks ago, in which a group of Indigenous leaders from across Canada visited Rome to meet with the head of the Catholic Church.
“It was a very touching personal moment for us. We came with a message of hope and revitalization. … We can’t change history, but we can definitely change the future. We sent that message loud and clear to the pope,” said Chartrand at a press conference Thursday morning.
“Although he can’t go back and change it, he understands the damage that was done and he asked that we in that room and the Red River Metis forgive him and the church. He took ownership of it, and to me, that’s a very powerful way to start the healing process.
“He also said he felt shame — very strong shame — for what has happened to us.”
Chartrand said the road to reconciliation, for his people, means continuing the Metis’ longstanding connections to the Catholic church, while acknowledging the pain caused by those who perverted its message.
“People need to understand we acknowledge these were individuals that were predators — evil — and they did so much harm to so many.
“It wasn’t the church itself, it wasn’t the Bible, it wasn’t God’s way or God’s message. We know that these individuals that did this caused so much harm to so many, including the Catholic Church,” he said.
“For him to say that we should pray for him, too, was telling us that he too is human — that he too needs help, that he too needs forgiveness. … It shows that he walks with us and stands with us.”
Andrew Carrier, a minister in the MMF government who was part of the delegation, echoed the need for the church and the Metis to work together going forward, while acknowledging the pain of the past.
“We have to do a better job to protect the children wherever we are,” he said.
“We lost a lot of our culture, our languages, but we also gained a lot of our culture, (through) our spiritual connection to the church.
“We suffered at the hands of individuals who misappropriated their authority and abused the children, and that should never have happened.”
Among the gifts exchanged at the meeting, the MMF received a brass olive branch, which Chartrand said will be housed in a museum planned for the federation’s recently purchased building at Winnipeg’s famous Portage and Main intersection.
The Metis gave the pontiff gifts as well, including one that Chartrand said will help him remember they’re in this together.
“Do we go forward alone, or do we go forward together? My story and my message to my people: let’s walk together.
“That’s why we gave him a beaded pair of tiny slippers with a cross, for him to remember every time he sees it to walk with us, to be with us.”
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.