Aboriginal residential school survivors to meet Pope Benedict
Delegation is hoping for an apology from the pontiff
The national chief of the Assembly of First Nations will lead a delegation of residential school survivors to the Vatican later this month for an audience with Pope Benedict.
Phil Fontaine said he's hoping the Pope will apologize for the abuse that aboriginal children suffered in the residential schools, most of which were run by the Roman Catholic Church under the supervision of the federal government.
About 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children were taken from their families to attend the schools.
In June 2008, dozens of survivors gathered in the House of Commons to hear Prime Minister Stephen Harper deliver an apology for the physical and sexual abuse they endured in the federally financed institutions.
Overseen by the Department of Indian Affairs, residential schools aimed to force aboriginal children to learn English and adopt Christianity as part of a government policy called "aggressive assimilation."
There were about 130 such schools in Canada — with some in every territory and province except Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick — from as early as the 19th century to 1996.
In September 2007, the government formalized a $1.9-billion compensation plan for victims. The government also established a truth and reconciliation commission to examine the legacy of the residential schools. However, the commission has been in limbo since October 2008, when Justice Harry LaForme resigned as its chairman.
Its remaining commissioners, Claudette Dumont-Smith and Jane Morley, announced in January that they will step down effective June 1.
A selection committee led by former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci and comprising aboriginal and church leaders is in the process of finding new commissioners.