A long-awaited appointment with Pope Francis at the Catholic Archdiocese in Quebec City Friday morning didn’t go according to plan for some Indigenous representatives.
Michelle Shenandoah accompanied Jonel Beauvais to the private meeting to support.
“Thankfully they were able to give me a position in there where I was able to express some things about us that are beautiful,” Beauvais, the granddaughter of a residential school survivor.
According to Shenandoah, she was on an approved list of guests for the meeting, but when they arrived things didn’t go as planned.
“I was asked to leave along with my other sister who is Mi’kmaw,” she told Global News, adding that the third woman was also there to support Beauvais.
The women say the experience wasn’t pleasant because of how they were treated by one staff member at the archdiocese.
“It made me feel a little uncomfortable when the person who’s here to help me get through this is escorted,” she pointed out. “(The staff member) threatened to call security if they did not leave immediately.”
On Thursday, Shenandoah expressed disappointment that she wasn’t allowed to present the Pope with a baby’s cradle board during a ceremony at the Citadel in Quebec City on the Pontiff’s first day in the province.
She said it’s the same one she had loaned him overnight in March at the Vatican, for him to reflect on. The board represents all the children who died at Catholic-led residential schools.
According to her, when the board was returned to her she was told that Pope Francis wished to see the item again when he visited Canada.
That why she was disappointed again on Friday, not only because she still couldn’t present the Pontiff with the board, but because she didn’t get to speak to him about the Doctrine of Discovery, a topic she said she raised with him at the Vatican.
Those who blame the Pope for not addressing the Doctrine in his apology since arriving in Canada were waiting to see if he would’ve brought it up during the meeting Friday.
In an email statement to Global News, the Papal Visit Team said the Indigenous delegation was bigger than the 22 allotted for.
“The Holy Father very much appreciated the opportunity to meet with survivors this morning,” the statement reads. “An allocation of space was provided to the Assembly of First Nations delegation, given room size and the time available for the meeting with Pope Francis. Unfortunately the delegation that arrived for the meeting was much larger than the available space.
“Additional participants were given seats, however in an effort to prioritize seating for survivors, some guests were unable to be present in the room and were invited to an adjacent waiting room while the meeting took place.”
Still, Shenandoah is annoyed by how she said she was treated.
“To me it just shows the level of lack of understanding and no respect for our Peoples and why we’re there,” she insisted.
For some survivors who attended the meeting, the face-to-face with the head of the Catholic Church was worthwhile, even if he didn’t address issues like the Doctrine of Discovery.
“I’m happy that he had the courage to come to Canada when he knew that there was a lot of survivors that were not happy,” said Evelyn Korkmaz, a former student at the St. Anne’s Indian Residential School in Ontario.
For many at the meeting, the Pope’s “pilgrimage of penance” to Canada is one small, hopeful step. Now they and others wait to see what actions happen next.