In the lead-up to the meeting of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) with Pope Francis later this week, the Dene National Chief is calling for employees across Dene traditional territory to be granted compassionate leave during the occasion.

The delegation held the first two of three planned meetings with the Pope on March 28. On March 29, Dene National Chief Gerald Antoine, who is part of the First Nations delegation, wrote a public letter calling on employers across Dene traditional territory to grant their employees compassionate leave during the occasion.

“In the work to educate the world on the impacts of Residential Institutions of Assimilation and Genocide, we would like to request that employers allow Wellness Leave during the week of the Papal Delegation to Rome, as some survivors, and families may require reflection and wellness supports,” the letter reads.

The delegation includes representatives of Indigenous nations from all across Canada, including Métis and Inuit representatives; Latter two held separate meetings with the Pope on Monday. On Thursday, the First Nations Delegation will have its own meeting with the Pope.

One of the territory’s largest employers has confirmed it will be fulfilling this request: Territorial department of finance spokesperson Todd Sasaki confirmed that the Government of the Northwest Territories would provide time off to survivors of the residential school system and their families. He said the GNWT recommends granting casual leave for those requiring “counselling or other professional support,” and sick leave for those requiring more support.

“Other employees who wish to support a family member or loved one should be granted time off, preferably with pay, although leave without pay may be required,” he said.

The delegation is seeking a formal apology from the Catholic Church for its role in Canada’s residential school system, to be delivered on Canadian soil. They are also calling on the Pope, the Catholic Church and the Vatican to rescind a Papal Bull from 1493. This decree, issued by Pope Alexander VI, granted the King of Aragon and the Queen of Castille all lands to the south and west of the Azores or Cape Verde Islands, granting large swathes of North and South America to the two Iberian kingdoms.

The First Nations delegation will meet with Pope Francis on March 31 at 6:30 p.m. MST.

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