Métis delegation for audience with Pope focuses on moving forward with Catholic Church

·6 min read

Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF) President David Chartrand was effusive about the Pope and the Catholic Church after being part of a 55-member delegation that met with Pope Francis for about an hour April 21 in Rome.

Chartrand said the Pope asked them to pray for him and asked for their forgiveness. The delegation brought their message to the pontiff about the harms suffered by the Métis in residential schools in Canada.

“Although we can’t go back and change it, he understands the damage that was done and he asked for we in that room and the Red River Métis to forgive him and the church. So he took ownership of it. To me that’s a very powerful way to start the healing process,” said Chartrand at a news conference following the meeting.

“He also said he felt shame, very strong shame…for what happened to us.”

Andrew Carrier, who serves as minister for residential schools for MMF, was a day school student. He was abused. He told his story to the Pope.

“We also suffered at the hands of individuals who misappropriated their authority and abused the children, and that should have never happened,” said Carrier, who joined Chartrand at the news conference.

Carrier said he felt heard by the Pope and thought the Pope was “very sincere.” He added that the Pope was presented with an “Every Child Matters” flag.

Both Carrier and Chartrand were quick to make the distinction between the actions of the Catholic Church and the actions of individuals who belonged to the Catholic Church.

“We acknowledge that these were individuals that were predators, evil, and did so much harm to so many. It wasn’t the church itself. It wasn’t the Bible. It was not God’s way or God’s message of how we interact with all peoples in the world, including Indigenous. So we know that these individuals that did this caused great harm to so many, including the Catholic Church,” said Chartrand.

He added it was the federal government that brought in the residential school system. The schools were operated by the churches, who took away the language and culture of the students and “for whatever reason they thought it was the right approach. Obviously it was not.”

Looking to the future, Chartrand said, “There is no way, no way in hell, this would ever happen again. Not in this era. Not in this time frame.”

He said Indigenous leaders we’re too strong now.

Both men were also quick to say they wanted to see the Catholic Church thrive in Manitoba Métis communities.

“We need to do better for the future for our church and for our community. We have just survived over two years of COVID and realize the absence of the church in our community and has really magnified the need to support and to rebuild our connection with church,” said Carrier.

Chartrand said that one of the gifts that was presented to the Pope outlined the long history that the Manitoba Métis have had with the Catholic Church. A 200-year timeline, translated into the Pope’s preferred language of Spanish, traced the roots of the Catholic Church in western Canada, particularly Manitoba. It also captured the commitment Métis leader Louis Riel had with the church. Riel was identified by the Catholic Church as a strong candidate to be a priest, but instead chose to lead in another way.

“It was important to recognize how the church worked hand-in-hand with Métis in the establishment of not only Manitoba but western Canada. It was to me an important message to show him our connection then is still connected today. But importantly that Riel not only protected the Métis, he protected French language, he protected religion, he protected people of the west. He gave his life not only for us. He gave his life for the church,” said Chartrand.

He added that they also presented the Pope with a Louis Riel coin, a silver dollar minted in 2019, and a Spanish translation of the self-government agreement the MMF signed with Canada in 2021.

The MMF has asked the Pope to consider a visit to Winnipeg, which would include blessing Riel’s burial site in the St. Boniface Cathedral's cemetery.

Chartrand said he understands that the Pope’s age, at 85, and health will be considerations in his planned stops when he comes to Canada this year. It is anticipated Pope Francis will be in Canada for three or four days and may have already selected three sites to visit.

However, Chartrand said the Pope’s age did not play a role in today’s visit as the Pontiff shook the hands of every delegate and presented each with a rosary.

“It was such a heartfelt moment for all of us in that room,” said Chartrand.

MMF also gifted the Pope two beaded crosses and authentically made Métis-style slippers.

The Pope also gifted the MMF an olive branch made of brass.

Both the slippers and the olive branch, said Chartrand, signify the Métis and the Catholic Church walking forward together “to reconciliation and revitalization and build hope again.”

The visit by the MMF delegation follows after delegates from the Assembly of First Nations, Métis National Council, and Inuit visited Rome the last week in March, with each having separate audiences with the Pope.

During a combined audience on April 1, Pope Francis offered a qualified apology: “For the deplorable conduct of those members of the Catholic Church, I ask for God’s forgiveness and I want to say to you with all my heart, I am very sorry. And I join my brothers, the Canadian bishops, in asking your pardon.”

At that time the Pope also committed to coming to Canada.

Many Indigenous leaders were disappointed that the Pope did not apologize for the role of the Catholic Church in residential schools and are hoping for a fulsome apology on Canadian soil.

In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on the legacy of Indian residential schools delivered its final report with 94 calls to action. Number 58 calls upon “the Pope to issue an apology to Survivors, their families, and communities for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children in Catholic-run residential schools…to be delivered by the Pope in Canada.”

The other churches involved in operating residential schools in Canada—Anglican, Presbyterian and United—apologized before the TRC was established in 2008 through the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA).

More than 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their homes and forced to attend residential schools between the 1880s and 1996. The IRSSA recognizes 139 church-run government-funded Indian residential schools across the country. More than 60 per cent of the schools were run by entities of the Catholic Church.

As the MMF split from the MNC last September, they were not included as part of the MNC delegation.

Windspeaker.com

By Shari Narine, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com, Windspeaker.com

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