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Indigenous leader says Pope Francis visit leaves room for reconciliation and change

Click to play video: 'Indigenous leader says Pope’s visit leaves room for reconciliation and change' Indigenous leader says Pope’s visit leaves room for reconciliation and change
Indigenous leaders say they hope the visit by Pope Francis is only the beginning of healing between the Catholic Church and Indigenous peoples. But, one chief says if the planning for the visit is any indication, there's a lot of work that will need to be done. Morgan Black reports – Jul 27, 2022

Indigenous leaders are reflecting on the historic visit of Pope Francis to Alberta — and its shortcomings.

The chief of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation, Tony Alexis, said he felt some frustration with the planning process ahead of the Pope’s arrival.

“It’s supposed to be an Indigenous event. A lot of the time we were moved to the side, so that the intention of the visit would be held in the forefront. It should not be like that. We should be equals.”

Click to play video: 'Pope Francis pilgrimage to Lac Ste. Anne draws thousands to Alberta lakeshore' Pope Francis pilgrimage to Lac Ste. Anne draws thousands to Alberta lakeshore
Pope Francis pilgrimage to Lac Ste. Anne draws thousands to Alberta lakeshore – Jul 26, 2022

Alexis said planning the itinerary alongside the Catholic Church reminded him of the attitudes present within residential school teachings.

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“When we talk about the residential schools — what was that? It was implied that we didn’t know what we were doing. That’s what residential schools were.

“When we were planning this event, we felt the same thing — that we didn’t know what we were doing.”

In a statement to Global News Wednesday, the Papal Visit Team said, “We recognize that the Holy Father’s trip has come together very quickly, with final dates being confirmed only two months ago.

“We understand the concerns and acknowledge that a longer planning window would have allowed us a broader and more fulsome engagement on the various aspects of the visit.”

The team said it is hopeful that the programming developed with the support of Indigenous partners “will help many find the healing they have long sought.”

“While there is significant work ahead, we are grateful to the many Indigenous people across the land who have walked with us in this historic opportunity for healing.”

Read more: Pope Francis apology: What wasn’t said in address to residential school survivors

Alexis said he felt Pope Francis acted as a “true leader” during his time in Alberta, but thinks the institution behind Francis failed to keep up with his intentions.

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“If you are going to do anything for us (Indigenous peoples), you can’t do it without us,” he said. “That’s at every table. Government, or this apology.

Read more: Pope Francis’s apology evokes faint praise from Indigenous groups in U.S., Canada

Alexis also noted a shortfall when it came to bringing Indigenous-owned businesses into Tuesday’s Lac Ste Anne pilgrimage.

“We’ve done this event (at Lac Ste. Anne) all the time, so (I felt that we were) pushed to the side,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Pope holds public mass in Edmonton, attends pilgrimage in Lac Ste. Anne' Pope holds public mass in Edmonton, attends pilgrimage in Lac Ste. Anne
Pope holds public mass in Edmonton, attends pilgrimage in Lac Ste. Anne – Jul 26, 2022

Overall, Alexis said the apology from the head of the Catholic Church is a “good start.” He underscored that the event is meant for survivors of residential schools.

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“The fact that the leader of the Catholic Church stepped on the land where the children were hurt and taken,” said Chief Alexis.

“Where some children didn’t make it home and some children had to come home to let their family know that their sibling wouldn’t be coming home.”

The Pope’s apology for the “deplorable evil” of residential schools lacked a key mention for many Indigenous people. It did not include a renouncement of the Doctrine of Discovery — the policy stems from a series of edicts, known as papal bulls, dating back to the 15th century.

Countries, including Canada, have used the doctrine to justify colonizing lands considered to be uninhabited, but were in fact home to Indigenous Peoples.

Read more: Canada’s bishops working to get Catholic Church statement on Doctrine of Discovery

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On Tuesday, Chief Judy Wilson of Neskonlith First Nation said this is an essential step in reconciliation.

“We need to get on with the business of renouncing the [Doctrine], because of the genocide of the legacy it has caused our people.”

Treaty 6 First Nations Grand Chief George Arcand Jr. said the pontiff’s visit has been a symbol of a commitment to change. However, he wants more than symbolism.

“The Catholic Church and the federal government need to publicly commit to work with us to find some solutions,” he said.

“Now, we need to start rebuilding. I hope we all can work together to find ways to rebuild what Canada, North America — maybe even the world — could be.”

Read more: Pope Francis receiving a headdress elicits heated emotions amongst First Nations communities

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.

The Hope for Wellness Help Line offers culturally competent counselling and crisis intervention to all Indigenous Peoples experiencing trauma, distress, strong emotions and painful memories. The line can be reached anytime toll-free at 1-855-242-3310.

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