By Kelly Geraldine Malone and Brittany Hobson
The program for Pope’s trip to Canada next month includes a visit to the site of a former Alberta residential school with survivors, the Vatican said Thursday.
The papal visit is set to start in Edmonton on July 24 and end in Iqaluit on July 29. It is to include public and private events with an emphasis on Indigenous participation.
“We pray this pilgrimage will serve as another meaningful step in the long journey of healing, reconciliation and hope,” said Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton, the general co-ordinator of the papal visit to Canada.
Pope Francis is expected to deliver an apology for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in residential schools during the trip, building on sentiments expressed earlier this year during an Indigenous delegation to the Vatican.
At that time, the Pope apologized for the deplorable conduct of church members involved in residential schools.
Pope Francis is scheduled to arrive in Edmonton on July 24 to a brief ceremony at the airport. The next day he is set to join survivors at the Ermineskin Indian Residential School in the community of Maskwacis south of the city.
Gilda Soosay, a member of Samson Cree Nation, said it is a “miraculous event” for her people.
“We have to look forward to what’s coming for our people, our grandchildren and the children coming after that,” said Soosay, who is part of the local committee preparing for the visit.
“We need to begin a healing process for our people here in Maskwacis.”
In a statement, the Maskwacis Tribal Council representing the four local First Nations emphasized the importance of the visit.
“This is a pivotal moment for the world to witness and understand the impacts of the intergenerational traumas suffered by Indigenous people in residential school systems in Canada and around the world,” they said. “This is an important step toward reconciliation for everyone to be a part of.”
Ermineskin was one of the largest institutions in Canada. Smith said it “will have a representative role for all residential schools.” He anticipates the apology will come in front of survivors at the school.
Francis is also scheduled to visit Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples, an Indigenous church in downtown Edmonton, on July 25.
Fernie Marty, an elder originally from Cold Lake, Alta., said he was excited and nervous about meeting Pope Francis.
“We have a unique history happening here. It’s important for my own personal healing to continue,” said Marty, who is a day school survivor and works at Sacred Heart Church.
The following day, Francis is scheduled to attend a large mass at Commonwealth Stadium, home of the Edmonton Elks CFL football team. The facility can hold about 65,000 people.
The pontiff is to go to Lac Ste. Anne that evening where a large pilgrimage takes place each year.
“People are looking forward to being with him. Praying with him at Lac Ste. Anne,” said Rev. Garry LaBoucane, a Métis priest and spiritual director of the pilgrimage.
Due to the 85-year-old Pope’s advanced age and limitations, Francis will take part in public events for about one hour, organizers said.
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller said the federal government will be providing support to transport survivors, but he did not provide a cost. Planning is taking place to avoid a “logistical nightmare,” he said.
Miller added that he expects to attend events in Alberta.
The Pope is next scheduled to travel to Quebec City on July 27, where he is to meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Gov. Gen. Mary Simon, and later deliver a public address.
The pontiff is then scheduled to travel to Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré on July 28 for a mass. Between 10,000 and 15,000 guests are anticipated to attend.
“The Pope is very much looking forward to coming here,” Archbishop of Quebec Gérald Cyprien Lacroix said. “Despite his limited health, he will be fully present with us to live this next step in the process of reconciliation and healing with the Indigenous Peoples of our country.”
Pope Francis is scheduled to meet with Indigenous leaders from Eastern Canada on July 29 before flying to Iqaluit. There, Francis will have a private meeting with residential school survivors and attend a public community event.
The Pope’s priority during the visit is the relationship with Indigenous Peoples, Smith said, adding the pontiff has heard the cry for reconciliation and the longing for hope.
“This is one step in the journey,” Smith said. “But it’s a huge step.”
The program’s release comes as some worried the pontiff’s health may delay the journey to Canada. Earlier this month, a scheduled trip to Congo and South Sudan was cancelled “in order not to jeopardize the results of the therapy that he is undergoing for his knee,” the Vatican said.
Smith said the Vatican’s release of the program should provide an assurance that Pope Francis will come to Canada.
The Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program has a hotline to help residential school survivors and their relatives suffering trauma invoked by the recall of past abuse. The number is 1-866-925-4419.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on June 23, 2022.
Federal government has made little progress in addressing MMIWG, says advocacy group
OTTAWA — The Native Women’s Association of Canada says the federal government has made little progress in the past year on its action plan to end violence against Indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse people.
There have been funding commitments, but little has been done to directly support survivors and families, said an analysis released today by the group.
The national action plan was at the top of the 231 calls to justice put forth by the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in their final report three years ago.
The association was one of the groups working with Ottawa on the plan, but walked away saying the exercise was fundamentally flawed and politically motivated.
The National Family and Survivors Circle did participate in developing the plan and members from that group are expected to speak later Friday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is to meet with survivors and take part in a private ceremony in the National Capital Region.
The Native Women’s Association of Canada tracked the commitments made by the government in its plan and assessed the implementation of them.
While some progress has been made over the past 12 months on some of actions, little or none has been made on others, the organization says.
“Today, we are seeing the sad results of the government’s weak response to the crimes being committed against Indigenous women, girls, and gender-diverse people,” said CEO Lynne Groulx.
“The National Action Plan, as it was drafted, was actually a recipe for inaction, and the people represented by our organization are paying the price.”
The federal government committed to provide funding or enhance existing funding in four areas: culture, health and wellness, human safety and security and justice.
Ottawa is expected to release its first annual progress report that will document the work completed over the last year.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 3, 2022.
The Canadian Press
Prime minister signs historic land claim settlement with Alberta First Nation
SIKSIKA, Alta. — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the chief of a southern Alberta First Nation have signed a historic land-claim settlement which the federal government says is one of the largest of its kind in Canada.
Trudeau and Marc Miller, minister of Crown-Indigenous relations, participated in a signing ceremony Thursday with Chief Ouray Crowfoot of Siksika First Nation, its council and community members 150 kilometres east of Calgary.
“We’re gathered today to right a wrong from the past,” Trudeau said during the ceremony held where the original treaty was signed 145 years ago.
“We’re gathered to give ourselves a chance to start rebuilding trust between us, nation to nation.”
The federal government said the settlement dates back more than a century to when Canada broke its Blackfoot Treaty promise and took almost half of Siksika’s reserve land, including some of its agricultural lands, to sell to people who settled in the area.
The agreement provides $1.3 billion in compensation to the First Nation to resolve outstanding land claims, which include about 46,500 hectares of Siksika’s reserve and certain mineral rights taken by Canada.
Miller drew applause when he addressed the crowd in Blackfoot in a speech that last nearly three minutes.
“We’ll see if I can do better in English,” Miller joked after he had finished.
“Today’s a new day. It’s time to move on.”
Trudeau said it’s important to move forward with Indigenous people as partners.
“This settlement will enable you to invest in your priorities like infrastructure, education and supports for elders and youth,” he said. “It will create new economic, social and cultural opportunities.”
Crowfoot said the settlement doesn’t make up for past wrongs, but it will make a difference in people’s lives.
“Canada needs to stop using the word reconciliation. You will never reconcile. You will never make it whole,” he said.
“This land claim — $1.3 billion, that’s a lot of money — it will never make it whole of what it was before. But we’ve got to move forward. What the $1.3 (billion) can do is provide opportunities, opportunities we didn’t have before.
“I do see the tide turning for Siksika … I see us becoming a thriving nation.”
Crowfoot said some of the money is to be spent on addressing issues that affect its members.
“We are the second-largest First Nation from a land perspective, yet we don’t have policing on the reserve,” he said. “We’re working to get our policing back.
“We are working through the residential school searches and mental health.”
The Siksika website indicates each member is also to receive $20,000 in July as part of the settlement.
In his initial speech during the signing ceremony, Crowfoot noted that he wasn’t sure yet if he considered Trudeau to be a friend.
He explained at a media availability later that he knows Miller has proven to be a friend of the Siksika people.
“I have about three friends that I consider close friends. This is the first time I’ve ever met the prime minister,” he said.
“How do we work on these relationships so I can call the prime minister a friend? I don’t call him an enemy.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 2, 2022.
— With files from Colette Derworiz in Calgary
Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press
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