The Roman Catholic Church has yet to offer a former apology for residential schools and Assembly of First Nations National Chief Gerald Antoine, along with his fellow delegates, will be seeking atonement from Pope Francis during a meeting in Rome on March 31.
Ideally, that apology will come in Canada, according to Antoine.
“This is something that is an important step. So what we are calling on the Holy Father (to do) is to accept our invitation to come home to visit our family and to apologize,” the national chief said during a March 24 news conference. “I think this is an issue which is long overdue.”
Truth and Reconciliation Commission Call to Action #58 seeks a formal Papal apology for the Catholic Church’s role in residential schools and their related harms.
“Our people have endured a lot of things,” said Antoine. “They have a sense of hope. They’re optimistic about how things will unfold in a good way. We’re very hopeful he would come to visit us.”
The meeting will include former AFN national chief Phil Fontaine, former grand chief Dr. Wilton Littlechild and youth representative Taylor Behn-Tsakoza of the Fort Nelson First Nation in B.C., among several others.
Behn-Tsakoza said Indigenous youth “also have a voice to share.”
“I’m just, I’m very thankful and glad that our delegation recognized the importance of having this youth voice shared and the story of intergenerational survivors also having a space,” she said. “Although my generation didn’t attend the residential schools, we still feel the impacts every single day.
“We want to be part of this healing journey with our survivors and with those who really did the hard part,” she added.
According to Antoine, there are a number of other items that will be sought on the path to reconciliation.
“We also call on their church to make a number of amendments or to make amends now and in the future,” he said. “Immediate actions (include) returning the land properties back to First Nations on whose traditional lands they are situated, investment into long-term healing initiatives beyond the recent commitment of $30 million on Sept. 27 2021 (and) to ensure support programs and services for survival and their descendants.
“We’re also asking the Holy Father to renounce and formally revoke the doctrines of discoveries that were made starting from 1493 and replace it with a new table that decrees Indigenous people and cultures are valuable, worthy and must be treated with dignity and respect,” Antoine said.
Former Dene national chief and regional AFN chief Norman Yakeleya was planning to lead a delegation of First Nations delegates to the Vatican last December in search of an apology.
However, that meeting was delayed due to the Omicron variant of Covid.