A trip that Indigenous leaders were supposed to take to Rome later this month for a meeting with the Pope has been postponed because of the pandemic, said RoseAnne Archibald, National Chief for the Assembly of First Nations, on Tuesday.
Leaders with the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) were scheduled to meet with Pope Francis on Dec. 20 to seek an apology for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in running residential schools. The Métis and Inuit were supposed to meet the Pope earlier that week.
Hundreds of unmarked graves were discovered earlier this year at former residential schools across the country. The schools — sponsored by the government and mostly run by the Catholic Church — were set up to assimilate Indigenous youth into Canadian culture by removing them from their families and communities. Many Indigenous children were abused and/or died at the schools.
In September, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops apologized for “grave abuses that were committed by some members of (the) Catholic community” at the schools.
Archibald told First Nations leaders who’d gathered virtually for three days that the AFN has asked the church to: return diocese lands to Indigenous Peoples; increase the $30 million the church announced in September for long-term healing; and encourage the Pope to meet with Indigenous leaders on traditional lands when he visits Canada. The Pope has agreed to meet with Indigenous Peoples when he travels to Canada, but no date has been set for his visit.
Archibald went on to tell attendees that the AFN plans to hold the government to account for forcing Indigenous children to attend residential schools.
“We continue to call for accountability,” she said. “Someone must be charged for the deaths of our children. There must be examinations to determine if our children were murdered. Canada must be held to account, and they have to be held responsible for their genocidal laws and policies.”
Archibald said Canada shouldn’t be allowed to investigate itself, and that the AFN would be reaching out to the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to file a human-rights complaint, and to pursue remedies “for the victims of genocide.”
“We need to know the truth before we can walk the road to reconciliation,” she said.