Why the meeting with Pope Francis is a historic one for First Nations

ROME — Survivors of residential school institutions will meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican Thursday.

The First Nation delegation led by the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) will have one-hour with him.

Kukpi7 Chief Rosanne Casimir of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation in British Columbia is one of 15 official delegates who will address the Pope in the private meeting. During her 10-minute address she will personally ask him to come to Kamloops, where 215 unmarked graves — later revised to 200 — of what is believed to be mostly children, were discovered last year.

It will be a long-time coming, as to this day, there has never been an official apology from a Pope. Residential school survivors say an apology would be more meaningful if Pope Francis travelled to Canada and apologized.

They want recognition of the Catholic Church’s involvement in ruining the lives of innocent children in what survivors say was an act of genocide.

Emotions are high, as survivors get ready to talk about the horrid abuses they suffered at residential institutions. Throughout the hotel where many survivors are staying there were people in tears on Wednesday.

“There can be no reconciliation without the truth and an official apology from the head of the Catholic Church,” said Fred Kelly, a survivor and a spiritual adviser for the AFN, who will be at the meeting.

There will be pow wow dancers and cultural gifts given to him as a sign of peace and to show him First Nations culture is still alive, even after assimilation attempts.

An estimated 150,000 children were forced or coerced to attend residential institutions. An estimated 95 per cent of those children were First Nations.

Pope Francis will meet with all three Indigenous groups on Friday. Inuit and Métis delegations met with him at the Vatican on Monday.

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