A group of Manitoba Indigenous people are calling on Pope Francis to apologize for the role the Catholic Church played in residential schools, and say when they meet with the pontiff later this week they will ask him to come to Canada to do it.
The regional chief of Manitoba with the Assembly of First Nations told Global News the delegation will extend the invitation in a letter they plan to present to the Pope during their meeting on Friday.
“We’re hoping that he will commit,” Chief Cindy Woodhouse said. “We’re hoping that he will come to Canada and apologize to all those families.
“He needs to apologize for all the wrongdoings of the past.”
An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend residential schools, more than 60 per cent of which were run by the Catholic Church.
“We have to look back at our history and make sure that this never, ever happens to another child again and to remember those little ones,” she said.
There were 14 residential schools in Manitoba, including one in Dauphin that Frederick Nepinak attended.
“I didn’t realize until later on in life how it would affect us in life,” he told Global News.
Nepinak’s siblings, cousins and other family members were also taken away from their families and sent to the facilities.
“My older brothers and sisters… I never hardly (saw) them,” he said. “I was a young kid. I didn’t know where they were, where they (had) gone.”
For years residential school survivors have shared their stories, trauma and pain in an effort to shed light on what happened inside these facilities.
Many were ripped away from their families when they were very young and some never made it home.
Nepinak is in Rome to share his story of life inside a residential school with the Pope and said while it is difficult to relieve, it is more important to continue to speak out for his friends who never made it home.
“Finally we get to be here to talk about it. A lot of mixed feelings,” he said ahead of Friday’s meeting.
“A lot of those kids never came home. So that’s one reason why we’re here… for them.”
There are more than 4,100 documented deaths at residential schools, however, many believe that number is much higher.
For those who did survive, it’s meant a lifetime of trauma to work through.
“There was a lot of loss of language, there was a loss of culture, a loss of family and all those things have to be invested in,” Woodhouse said.
“The time has to be taken to ensure that we’re trying to build stronger foundations for those families that were affected by the negative impacts of residential school.”
Woodhouse said the group wants to see the Pope apologize and they’d like him to come to Manitoba to do it.
She said it would be an important step forward towards reconciliation.
“The Catholic Church has to acknowledge their role in this dark history and try to find reconciliation, to try and find a good path forward,” she said.
The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line (1-800-721-0066) is available 24 hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience.
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