Tk’emlups chief to meet with Pope Francis on March 31

By Michael Potestio

 Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir will hand deliver to Pope Francis an invitation for him to visit her reserve when she speaks with the leader of the Catholic Church on Thursday (March 31).

Casimir is one of 32 Indigenous representatives from Canada in Rome this week for historic meetings with the pope in Vatican City.

The group is seeking an apology and discussion on reconciliation for the church’s role in the abuses committed under Canada’s residential school system, which aimed to erase Indigenous culture and language over the course of the 20th century.

The delegation consists of representatives from the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), Metis National Council (MNC) and the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK). The latter two groups met with Pope Francis on Monday. The 13 people representing the AFN, which includes Casimir, are scheduled to meet the pope on Thursday morning.

Speaking to KTW via video chat from Rome, which is about nine hours ahead of Kamloops, Casimir said she will have 10 minutes to speak with Pope Francis one-on-one at the Vatican, one of 13 AFN delegates who will each partake in such a meeting.

Casimir said this week’s meting with the pope is historic for her, both personally and as a First Nation leader.

“It’s a pivotal point in history to be carrying these messages on behalf of the people. It’s a huge responsibility and it’s something I’m doing with dignity and honour,” Casimir said.

During her encounter, Casimir said she will seek a meaningful apology from the pope acknowledging the church’s direct role in abuses of the residential school system, in addition to delivering the invitation to visit Tk’emlups during his trip to Canada, which is expected later this year.

“It’s ground zero for the findings of the unmarked graves,”

Casimir said of her reserve, referring to the May 2021 announcement by the band that a ground-penetrating survey of grounds near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School revealed signs of 200 probable graves.

Since that announcement, other bands in Canada have undertaken similar searches, with similar findings.

Casimir said a papal visit to Tk’emlups would add to the significance of the pope making an apology to survivors and intergenerational survivors of residential schools.

“We, as First Nations, need to be a part and witness true expressions of goodwill by the highest level of leadership, and that’s from Pope Francis,” Casimir said.

She said she also wants the pope to decree the full co-operation of all Catholic entities in helping implement all 94 calls to action of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation report and live up to promises from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) regarding the disclosure of residential school documentation.

In addition, the delegation is calling on the pope to repeal the Papal Bull of 1493, issued by Pope Alexander, in which the church authored Spain and Portugal to colonize the Americas and its Indigenous peoples.

Casimir’s schedule is packed this week. On Tuesday, she was be part of a tour of the Vatican, its museum and gardens. On Wednesday, she and others in her group will be prepping for their meeting with Pope Francis.

The Indigenous delegation is in Rome until April 1.

Casimir arrived in Rome on March 26, her first visit to the city, and is staying in a hotel near the Vatican. Casimir described the ancient and modern look of the city rolled into one, evident by buildings and the streets.

“It’s very historical in all aspects,” she said.

The visit was organized by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has apologized for residential school abuses.

“As Canadian bishops, we are grateful to these delegates for walking with us on this journey and to Pope Francis for his attention to their suffering and his deeply-held commitment to social justice,” CCCB president Rev. Raymond Poisson said in a release.

Poisson said the CCCB expects the meetings will allow the pope to meaningfully address both the ongoing trauma and legacy of suffering faced by Indigenous peoples and the role of the Catholic Church in the residential school system.

Following the discovery of probable graves at Tk’emlups, Pope Francis expressed sorrow over the findings, but has not issued an official apology.

“Meeting with Pope Francis is an important step to address the Catholic Church’s culpability about genocide and complicity in what many First Nations children experienced in the institutions,” said AFN Northwest Territories Regional Chief Gerald Antoine, who is leading the AFN delegation to Rome. “It was responsible for managing, including in many instances, the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical and sexual violence inflicted on our children.”

The delegation’s visit will conclude on April 1 with a final audience with Pope Francis, during which he is expected to publicly respond after listening to delegates throughout the week.

The 32 representatives meeting with the pope include Indigenous elders, knowledge keepers, residential school survivors and youth from across Canada.

 Michael Potestio is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the KAMLOOPS THIS WEEK . The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada. Turtle Island News does not receive LJI government funding.

 

 

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