Alberta Métis delegates visiting Vatican to demand apology from Pope Francis
'Our children deserve to have peace,' says elder from Grande Prairie, Alta.
Angelina Crerar hopes her painful memories from her time in residential school will help persuade Pope Francis to make a formal apology on behalf of the Catholic Church for its role in running the institutions.
Crerar, a Métis knowledge keeper and elder from Grande Prairie, Alta., is among 30 Indigenous delegates travelling to the Vatican later this month to meet privately with the Pope in a bid for reconciliation with the church.
The church must answer for its role in the tragedy, Crerar said.
She said an apology is long overdue but that she has faith it will happen, for the sake of survivors and the children who didn't make it home.
An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend Canadian residential schools between the 1870s and 1997. More than 60 per cent of the schools were run by the Catholic Church.
Calls for an apology from the church have intensified since the discovery last spring of hundreds of unmarked graves at former residential school sites.
"What in the world happened to us? What happened to us?" Crerar said. "We all have the same questions."
Crerar also plans to ask the Pope to release the names of all children who were forced to attend residential schools in Canada.
Survivors have been waiting for decades to have their stories heard and their pain acknowledged, she said.
Crerar said she is grateful to go to Rome and "bring back" some of what Indigenous people have lost.
"Our children deserve to have peace, to have their names engraved," she said.
"It's time. Our children have had enough. They suffered a lot."
The Vatican announced in October that Pope Francis plans to visit Canada, but Indigenous leaders have said any papal visit must come with an apology from the Catholic Church.
Previous calls for apologies have gone unanswered. When an Indigenous delegation visited Pope Benedict in 2009, he expressed sorrow and "personal anguish" but never apologized.
Gary Gagnon, a member of St. Albert's Métis community, will also be part of the delegation Dec. 17-20.
For more than 20 years, Gagnon has been employed as a cultural facilitator with Edmonton Catholic Schools. He also serves as a regional vice-president for the Métis Nation of Alberta.
When he was asked to join the delegation to the Vatican, Gagnon felt overwhelmed by the burden. But he also felt a deep sense of obligation to survivors and to his community, he said.
"I have a short amount of time to get it right," he said Thursday. "There are many stories that are coming with us and we're going to miss some of those stories … but I believe it's the right thing to do."
- Do you know of a child who never came home from residential school? Or someone who worked at one? We would like to hear from you. Email our Indigenous-led team investigating the impacts of residential schools at email@example.com or call toll-free: 1-833-824-0800.
Gagnon said he will be leaning on his faith as he brings the painful histories of his community to Rome.
"To have that acknowledgement is a great gift to us and we have our stories going there," he said.
"And some of these stories are cemented. They're already done. But there should be new stories coming back and that's what I'm hoping for … the new stories.
"I believe God chose his most humble people, his children, to wake up the nation."
Gagnon said he will encourage Pope Francis to visit Alberta, and for the delegation to become part of an ongoing conversation around reconciliation.
He said Indigenous people deserve an apology. For reconciliation to happen, truth and acknowledgement must come first, he said.
"Those words are quite simple on paper. They're quite easy to write out, but they're hard to say sometimes — but I think that's our goal.
"I can only pray that we can touch the heart of him somehow."
Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools and those who are triggered by these reports.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for residential school survivors and others affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.
With files from the Canadian Press