The President of the Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF) says now that he has met face to face with Pope Francis, he has no doubt that the pontiff is truly sorry for the decades of abuse and mistreatment that was inflicted on Indigenous children in residential schools.
“I have no doubt, not a doubt in my mind that he was sincere in his apology, and he meant every word that he said,” MMF president David Chartrand said on Thursday about the public apology made by Pope Francis on April 1, for the Catholic’s church’s long-standing role in implementing Canada’s residential school system.
Chartrand’s comments came while speaking at a press conference in the city of Rome on Thursday, just after he and an MMF delegation met with Pope Francis at the Vatican to discuss the ongoing impacts of residential schools on Indigenous Canadians and on many Red River Métis citizens.
Chartrand said there were powerful moments during the meeting when residential school survivors told the pope their stories of abuse and mistreatment in residential schools, which for years were run by the Catholic Church in Canada.
“When you see the pope himself asking for forgiveness, and asking us to forgive the church, it showed the shame he felt of what happened to us,” Chartrand said.
“His body language was there, his acceptance of listening was there, and for him to ask us to pray for him tells us that he is human and that he too needs forgiveness.
“Everybody in that room shed a tear.”
The MMF delegation, which came to Rome separately from other Canadian Indigenous delegations that met with the pope over a week of meetings earlier this month, included MMF officials, elders and knowledge keepers, residential school survivors, bishops and youth.
According to Chartrand, the meeting was about relaying to the pope the harms that the residential school system had on Indigenous Canadians, but also about sending the message that the Manitoba Métis and the Catholic Church have a long history of working together and that he would like to see that relationship continue and grow.
“We came with a message of hope, revitalization, and how do we move forward from here?” Chartrand said. “We can’t change history, but we definitely can change the future.
“So we sent that message loud and clear to the pope that we want to see the revitalization of the church at home.”
The pope is scheduled to travel to Canada later this year, although details of the visit have not yet been made public, and Chartrand said that during his meeting on Thursday, he personally asked that the pope come to Winnipeg and bless the gravesite of Louis Riel.
Riel, who is known as the founder of the province of Manitoba, and who fought for the rights of the Métis people in this country, was just 41 years old when he was tried and subsequently hanged by the government of Canada on a charge of treason.
“I was hoping in my presentation to show that the connection between the church and Louis Riel was vital,” Chartrand said.
Although Chartrand said the pope made no commitment on Thursday that he would come to Winnipeg, he is hopeful that the message the delegation got across to him on Thursday will convince him that he should visit the city and the gravesite of Riel.
“Louis Riel believed in his heart of hearts that the Catholic Church was part of the everyday evolution of this nation, and it’s important to recognize that, and how the church worked hand-in-hand with the Métis in the establishment of not only Manitoba but of Western Canada.
“That is the message that I hope got across to him.”
— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun