“It’s about how to take this dialogue with the (Catholic) Church forward in a way that focuses on truth, reconciliation, healing and justice”
Métis Nation of Ontario President Margaret Froh said Pope Francis’ planned visit to Canada, possibly in July, is about residential school survivors, not politics.
“It’s really all about the survivors. It is about how to take this dialogue with the (Catholic) Church forward in a way that focuses on truth, reconciliation, healing and justice. That’s what matters where I’m sitting. It’s all about survivors,” Froh said in an exclusive interview with Windspeaker.com.
She says the pope’s visit should be where he can meet the most survivors and experience mixed-race communities.
That means the pope should come to Manitoba, says David Chartrand, president of the Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF).
“I want to assure our citizens that one of the important messages we will bring to His Holiness is the urgency to come to the heart of the Red River Métis homeland to bless the final resting place of our Grand Chief, Louis Riel. ,” Chartrand said in a statement last week. “His faith played a crucial role in the evolution of our nation. The Red River Métis, the people of Riel, will begin to find peace and justice through this important act of reconciliation.
The MMF will have a private audience with the Pope at the Vatican on April 21. The meeting comes about three weeks after delegations from the Métis National Council (RMN), Assembly of First Nations and Inuit each held private audiences with the Pope. the last week of March.
The MMF separated from the MNC last September.
Froh, whose MNO is one of four mixed-race governments that now make up the MNC, says that’s not a call the MMF can make and that MNC President Cassidy Caron will discuss with the Vatican about the place where the pope should go.
“I think there are certainly challenges that we have…with the Red River Métis kind of fishing in our ponds; this argument that there is only one democratically elected government and that is the MMF, of course, is wrong. I think it’s a very political issue… (and) the Pope’s visit is not, and should not be, a political issue,” she said.
The connection between the pope and Métis survivors of residential schools is particularly important in light of how Métis were excluded from much of the work undertaken by the federal government to repair Canada’s role in the Indian residential school system. , which operated from the 1880s until it last closed in 1996, says Froh.
In its final report, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on the Legacy of Indian Residential Schools included an entire volume entitled “The Métis Experience”. The Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA) dealt with federally funded, church-operated residential schools. While many Métis attended these schools, they also attended church-run schools that were not federally funded, and therefore Métis were not fully included in the IRSSA.
“It is a continuing disgrace that this damage has not been addressed and corrected,” wrote the TRC, which called on churches and especially the federal government to take the necessary steps to remedy and rectify the omission.
When the pope is on Canadian soil, Froh says she hopes he will issue “a full formal apology that includes a reference to the role played by the churches.”
On April 1, during a general audience with the three indigenous delegations, Pope Francis declared in particular: “For the deplorable conduct of these members of the Catholic Church, I ask God’s forgiveness and I want to tell you everything my heart: I’m really sorry. And I join my brothers, the Canadian bishops, in asking your forgiveness.
This expression of grief was unexpected, admits Froh, who thinks the pope was so moved by the stories of survivors that he needed to reach out.
“I think he spoke from his heart. I think he definitely acknowledged and spoke about his grief over the role that Catholics have played in the system. What I haven’t heard him talk about is that. It is the role of the institution of the church,” she said.
Froh was not one of eight MNC delegates who traveled to Rome last week to meet with the pope. She says that with so few delegates, priority was given to elders and residential school survivors as well as intergenerational survivors. The delegation was led by Caron, whom Froh applauds for being a strong voice.
Froh was in touch with delegates via text and watched TV coverage of the events. She says she was moved to tears when someone sent her a video of two young people dancing for the pope.
“A true celebration of our culture before the pope was another opportunity to share with him some of our culture as indigenous people, much of which has been taken away by these institutions. I think it’s a celebration of our resilience as Métis people and a sharing of our culture,” Froh said.
She credits the discovery of unmarked graves at former boarding schools last summer as also prompting the pope to issue a personal apology.
She says these graves have also raised awareness among the general Canadian public, as evidenced by the failure to find orange t-shirts on the first annual National Day of Truth and Reconciliation last September.
“Suddenly we’re talking about children’s remains and I think it was the first time for many Canadians that it went from kind of historical fact to something very real and something they could relate to,” said she declared.
Froh remembers the words of TRC President Murray Sinclair, who said success would be based on how committed the average Canadian can be to understanding and feeling they want to do something.
Froh says it will be the job of Indigenous groups to keep Canadians engaged on this path to reconciliation as more graves are uncovered and Canadians begin to “shut down” in an effort to deal with “difficulties.” really difficult information.
She adds that last week’s visit to the Vatican, the Pope’s apology and the “very positive” mainstream media coverage of events “are another very important step in moving this work forward” and keeping Canadians focused on the question.
Froh says the Catholic Church’s records of Métis students who attended residential and day schools, as well as the repatriation of cultural artifacts and objects are also important steps in the process of reconciliation and healing.
Shari Narine is a Local Journalism Initiative (LJI) reporter for Windspeaker.com. LJI is funded by the Government of Canada.