KAMLOOPS, B.C. — Leaders of a British Columbia First Nation say it would be "deeply meaningful" to welcome Pope Francis to their territory during a visit to Canada.
A statement from the Tk'emlups te Secwepemc Nation in Kamloops, B.C., says the visit would have to be more than a symbol of reconciliation and be accompanied by "real action."
It urges the Catholic Church to provide an apology from the Pope for its role in the abuse of Indigenous children who were forced to attend Canada's residential schools.
The nation also urges the church to "demonstrate acts of contrition," fulfil promises to disclose residential school documents and raise funds for survivors and their families.
Tk'emlups Chief Rosanne Casimir says survivors would also expect the church to live up to legal and financial obligations.
"It'd be a historic moment for Kamloops Residential Indian School survivors and for our community that continues to navigate the impacts following the horrific confirmation of the missing children," her statement says.
The Vatican said this week that Pope Francis is willing to visit Canada at a date yet to be determined.
The legacy of Canada's federally funded, church-run residential schools was underscored in May, when Tk'emlups announced that more than 200 suspected unmarked graves had been detected at the site of the former institution there.
More graves have since been found at the sites of several former institutions.
The Tk'emlups statement says local and regional Roman Catholic representatives have expressed words of regret and remorse, but there has never been an apology from the highest level of the Catholic Church.
"For the 'truth' component of truth and reconciliation, there has to be an acknowledgment, of the true role of the Catholic Church in the deaths of children placed in their care," it says.
The Catholic Church has repeatedly refused to accept responsibility or formally apologize for its role in the numerous and horrific abuses committed against Indigenous children in the residential school system, it says.
"For the Pope to come to Canada without real action, with simply the objective of reconciliation, glosses over and ignores this hard truth," Casimir says.
The Kamloops school began operation in 1890 and closed in 1969.
The statement says Casimir and Terry Teegee, B.C. regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations, have been named as part of a contingent of Indigenous leaders planning to travel to the Vatican to meet with the Pope in December.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited the Tk'emlups te Secwepemc Nation earlier this month to apologize for not responding to their invitation to attend an event to honour Canada's first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Sept. 30.
Trudeau told a gathering of Indigenous leaders and survivors in Kamloops that "millions of Catholics like me across this country expect the church to step up and fulfil its moral responsibilities, its legal and economic responsibilities, its historic responsibilities, but also to practise what it quite literally preaches."
He also said the federal government had supplied all of its records related to the residential institutions to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
However, the centre has said it is still waiting for the federal government to provide the final versions of school narratives and supporting documents used in the assessment process for compensation claims on abuse at the institutions.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 28, 2021.
The Canadian Press