Quebec First Nations leaders call on Pope to visit sites of former residential schools during trip

·2 min read
Chief Ghislain Picard of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador says the Pope's planned visit to Quebec City is disappointing, saying that Indigenous leaders have made repeated calls for him to visit at least one former residential school site in the province.  (Sylvain Roy Roussel/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Chief Ghislain Picard of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador says the Pope's planned visit to Quebec City is disappointing, saying that Indigenous leaders have made repeated calls for him to visit at least one former residential school site in the province. (Sylvain Roy Roussel/Radio-Canada - image credit)

Some First Nations leaders in Quebec say that Pope Francis's visit to the province's capital is an important step toward reconciliation — but only if it's done right.

On Friday, the Vatican formally announced a visit by Francis to Canada from July 24 to 29, with three main stops in Quebec City, Edmonton and Iqaluit.

Chief Ghislain Picard of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador is calling on the pontiff to visit the sites of former residential schools, saying his current itinerary for Quebec is disappointing.

"We've made repeated calls that the Pope take the time to visit at least one of the sites where unmarked graves were discovered and well, so far, it doesn't seem to be in the plan," he said.

"To me, if a formal apology has to take place .... then obviously it would be very significant that this happen on the site of one of those hundreds of schools that existed in the last century."

Reuters/Vatican media
Reuters/Vatican media

In a statement, the Vatican said it will work with Indigenous leaders when making plans to visit specific sites or communities, adding the Pope's mobility and health issues may play a part in the planning. More details will be released six to eight weeks prior to the papal visit, according to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Meanwhile, planning is underway for the Pope to visit the Lac Ste. Anne Pilgrimage grounds, a designated national historic site located about 75 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, and possibly Ermineskin Cree Nation, about 100 kilometres south of Edmonton.

The pontiff initially announced his plan to visit Canada during a meeting on April 1 with First Nations, Inuit and Métis delegates, who travelled to the Vatican to meet him.

That same day, he offered an initial apology for the actions of individual Roman Catholic Church members in Canada's residential schools.

Archbishop Richard Smith, the co-ordinator of the papal visit to Canada, said he expects Francis to repeat that same apology during his visit in Canada.

Jean-Claude Taliana/CBC
Jean-Claude Taliana/CBC

Senator Michèle Audette, one of the five commissioners for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, says the Pope's visit and apology on Canadian soil will play a part in reconciliation.

"It's probably a chapter. Many of the people ask for that many decades ago. And from that, it's our responsibility for those that are alive today to make sure that the reconciliation .... will be alive in different ways," she said.

While Audette said she shares Picard's disappointment about the Pope's travel plans in Quebec, she said this visit is just the first step toward healing.

"Let's enjoy, but let's make sure that the rest of us who are here every day, we acknowledge and [take] action."

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