Pope’s meeting with Métis survivors of residential schools was ‘comfortable’ but did not include apology

WARNING: This story contains distressing details

Pope Francis sat and listened to three Métis survivors of church-run residential schools in Canada tell their stories during his audience at the Vatican with the first of three Indigenous delegations Monday.

“It was a very comfortable meeting,” said Métis National Council president Cassidy Caron. “Pope Francis sat, and he listened, and he nodded along when our survivors told their stories. Our survivors did an incredible job in that meeting of standing up and telling their truths. They were so brave and so courageous, and we wanted to make sure we elevated their voices, and that’s exactly what we did today.”

The Pope did not issue an apology for the abuses that took place at the church-run, government-funded schools for Indigenous children that existed throughout Canada from the 1870s to 1997. He did, however, speak of “truth, justice and healing,” Caron said.

“I take that as a personal commitment,” she said.

He also reiterated his commitment to travelling to Canada at some point and meeting with survivors but a date has not yet been set for that visit, Caron said.

WATCH | Métis National Council president Cassidy Caron describes meeting with Pope:

Métis leader describes ‘comfortable’ meeting with Pope

6 hours ago

Duration 3:17

Métis National Council president Cassidy Caron said Pope Francis spoke of ‘truth, justice and healing’ during a meeting with Métis survivors of residential schools. The Métis delegation was the first of three Indigenous delegations to Rome to meet with the pontiff. 3:17

Angie Crerar was one of the survivors who was at the Monday meeting, part of a series of audiences in Rome this week to discuss the impact of the Roman Catholic Church’s role in operating the majority of residential schools in Canada, and how the church can try to make amends.

The 85-year-old elder from the Métis Nation of Alberta spoke with CBC before the meeting and said childhood memories flooded back to her as she embarked on her journey to Rome for the historic meeting with Pope Francis. 

“Very excited, very humbled, so very grateful,” she said ahead of the hour-long meeting.

On the way to Rome, Crerar wore a deep blue blazer and red Métis sash that represents the blood Métis shed fighting for their rights.

While she waited to depart the Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, Crerar was reminded of what helped her survive nearly a decade of residential school. 

“Although they tried to change us, to say that our family was no good … my mom and dad taught us kindness, to love, respect,” Crerar said.

WATCH | Métis elder desribes her residential school experience:

Métis elder describes what she endured at residential school ahead of meeting with Pope

22 hours ago

Duration 1:17

Métis Nation of Alberta Elder Angie Crerar recalls what helped her survive nearly 10 years at the Roman Catholic-run St. Joseph School in Fort Resolution, N.W.T. 1:17

It’s with that sentiment that Crerar is focusing her message to Pope Francis not only for an apology, but to also help identify the lost children from residential schools. 

“These children have the right to have a name and identity,” Crerar said.

Demand to access all church and residential school records

Caron said ahead of the meeting that she would push for unfettered access to church and residential school records with the Pope and other church officials the delegation plans to meet this week, including Roman Catholic cardinals.

“Putting names to the children is incredibly important in the healing journey of our people,” she said.

“We will be advocating for that to Pope Francis as well as many other church officials, who we will be meeting with throughout this week.”

WATCH | The significance of the pope’s meeting with Indigenous delegates:

What the Pope’s meeting with Indigenous communities could mean for reconciliation

2 days ago

Duration 1:17

Indigenous delegates are meeting with Pope Francis in hopes he’ll commit to a formal apology for the Catholic Church’s role in running residential schools in Canada. Here’s why it matters and how it could change things. 1:17

Crerar said she will never forget the day in 1946 when she not only became a residential school student, but a mother to her two younger sisters aged five and three.

The RCMP took her and her siblings on a plane away from Yellowknife after her mother died of tuberculosis. 

“I’ve got lots of scars,” Crerar said. “I wear [them] with pride.”

Crerar spent nine years at the Roman Catholic-run St. Joseph School in Fort Resolution, N.W.T., from the age of eight to 17.

Métis National Council President Cassidy Caron hugs Crerar, a residential school survivor, who is part of the Métis delegation. The Métis delegation is the first of three Indigenous delegations, along with First Nations people and Inuit, scheduled for audiences with the Pope this week. (Cassidy Caron/Supplied)

Audrey Poitras, a longtime friend of Crerar’s and president of the Alberta Métis Nation, sat with her arm around her at Gate 60 on Sunday.

Poitras called Crerar last October to tell her she was selected by the Métis Nation to be part of its primary delegation for the Vatican meetings.

“She [Crerar] said to me, ‘I’ll go with you,'” Poitras said. “I said, ‘But I’m not going,’ and she’s like, ‘Well, I’m going with you.'”

Poitras will be watching some of this week’s meetings from a screen in a nearby room and will attend the pontiff’s last audience on Friday, which will be public, and include members of all the Métis, First Nations and Inuit delegations, along with their family members and support members. 

Back in 2004, Poitras said Crerar pushed her to collect stories about Métis residential school survivors because she felt it was time for them to be told. 

The book Métis Memories of Residential Schools contains the stories of 24 Métis residential school survivors, including Crerar.

“I’m really pleased that I’m able to go with her and share with her another leg of her journey,” Poitras said.

“She’s the person who I look up to.”

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools or by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

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