WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
Leaders of the Tk'emlúps te Secwe̓pemc Nation on Thursday invited Pope Francis to visit their community and meet with survivors of the Kamloops Indian Residential School during his planned visit to Canada.
A statement from the nation said it would "be deeply meaningful" if the Pope came to the community in person and delivered an apology for the Catholic Church's role in running residential schools.
"It'd be a historic moment for Kamloops Residential Indian School survivors and for our community who continues to navigate the impacts following the horrific confirmation of the missing children," Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir wrote in a statement.
"For the Pope to come to Canada without real action, with simply the objective of reconciliation, glosses over and ignores this hard truth."
Chief Robert Joseph, ambassador for Reconciliation Canada, said it would be "truly significant" to see the Pope travel to Tk'emlúps territory.
He said hearing first-hand from survivors could give the Catholic leader a deeper understanding of why an apology would mean so much to so many.
"It would help the survivors and their families to hear an apology from the Pope as they desperately hold on so that they might find some way to step into the process of reconciliation," said Joseph, speaking Thursday on The Early Edition.
Joseph, a residential school survivor himself and hereditary chief of the Gwawaenuk First Nation, would also like to see the Pope offer more than just an apology.
"That would be absolutely inspiring if the the Pope came to Canada with an actual action plan that demonstrated what they would do to follow up on the words," he said.
The Vatican said Wednesday the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops had invited Pope Francis to travel to Canada in the "context of the long-standing pastoral process of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.''
A statement said the Pope agreed to the trip, but a date was not announced and there was no guarantee of an apology.
Pope stopped short of apology in June
Tk'emlúps te Secwe̓pemc Nation is near the site of the former residential school in Kamloops, B.C., where an estimated 200 possible unmarked burial sites were detected by a radar survey this spring.
The Pope expressed sorrow in June over the "shocking news,'' but stopped short of the direct apology that many have demanded from the Catholic Church for its role in running the institutions.
An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend residential schools between 1831 and 1996, with more than 60 per cent of the schools run by the church.
Recommendation 58 of the National Truth and Reconciliation Commission's report, published in 2015, called for the Pope to deliver an apology in Canada within a year.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau personally asked the Pope in 2017 to consider apologizing.
"The Roman Catholic Church has repeatedly refused to accept responsibility or formally apologize for its direct role in the numerous and horrific abuses committed against Indigenous children through the residential school system," read the nation's statement.
"For the 'truth' component of Truth and Reconciliation, there has to be an acknowledgement, of the true role of the Catholic Church in the deaths of children placed in their care."
First Nations, Metis and Inuit leaders plan to make a trip to the Vatican in December to meet the Pope in the hope of securing an apology. Casimir will be among those leaders, the nation confirmed Thursday.
Also Thursday, Tk'emlúps te Secwe̓pemc repeated its call for the church to release attendance records of all students forced to attend the Kamloops institution.
Support is available for anyone affected by the lingering effects of residential schools and those who are triggered by the latest reports. The Indian Residential School Survivors Society can be contacted toll-free at 1-800-721-0066.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. Access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.
Within B.C., the KUU-US Crisis Line Society provides a First Nations and Indigenous-specific crisis line available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It's toll free and can be reached at 1-800-588-8717 or online at kuu-uscrisisline.com.