Saskatoon

Sask. First Nations leaders call for Catholics to boycott Sunday mass over residential school issues

Saskatchewan First Nations leaders are calling on Roman Catholics to boycott Sunday mass until church leaders do more for residential school survivors.

Critics want all documents made public, survivors to be paid promised $25M and a papal apology in Canada

Kinistin Saulteaux Nation Chief Felix Thomas (left) and Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Vice-Chief David Pratt hosted a news conference in Saskatoon Friday morning to call on Roman Catholics to boycott Sunday mass until the church does more for residential school survivors. (Jason Warick/CBC)

Saskatchewan First Nations leaders are urging Roman Catholics to boycott Sunday mass until their church does more for residential school survivors.

They say it's one thing for politicians or First Nations people to call for justice, but that all Catholics joining them would have a much bigger impact.

"We need more champions. The greatest champions on this can be the congregation. This is something they can do, show that solidarity and not show up for church on Sunday," Kinistin Saulteaux Nation Chief Felix Thomas said at a news conference Friday morning in Saskatoon with Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Vice-Chief David Pratt.

"You can pray at home in your own way. You don't need a middle man to pray to the Creator and to God."

Dozens of pairs of children's shoes were recently placed on the steps of St. Paul's co-cathedral in downtown Saskatoon to honour the 215 children whose remains were found at a Catholic residential school site in Kamloops. Saskatchewan First Nations leaders are calling for Catholics to boycott Sunday mass until the church does what's right for survivors. (Leisha Grebinski/CBC)

Pratt agreed.

"I think anything that would pressure the church to do what's right would be good. This isn't something we're going to let go," Pratt said.

"In order for us all to move forward together, the Catholic church has to accept its responsibility."

No one from the Roman Catholic dioceses in Saskatoon or Regina was available for comment Friday.

The boycott call comes following the recent discovery by British Columbia's Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation of an unmarked burial site at the Kamloops Indian Residential School containing the remains of 215 children. First Nations leaders, survivors and other say the discovery is tragic but not unique. They predict many more bodies will be discovered in the coming months as searches intensify.

Pope Francis has expressed sorrow over the discovery in Canada of the remains of 215 boarding school students, but didn't offer the apology sought by First Nations leaders and others. (Domenico Stinellis/The Associated Press)

Pratt, Thomas and others say the Catholic church has failed residential school survivors and their families in three ways.

First, Pope Francis has so far rejected calls to issue an apology on Canadian soil, as listed in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action.

In 2017, Thomas and others spent months organizing a potential papal visit. It was to take place outside Saskatoon at the ancient First Nations gathering place that is now Wanuskewin Heritage Park.

Second, the Catholic Church has failed to pay $25-million into a healing fund for survivors, as it agreed to do. The Anglican and United churches also agreed and paid their full share years ago. The Catholic Church has paid less than $4 million, according to the latest public figures.

Third, critics note that church officials continue to conceal documents on residential schools and abuser priests.

Pratt said Pope Francis and all church leaders must remedy all three of these items if they hope to serve as a moral example for their followers.

Thomas said the situation is urgent, with survivors traumatized again by the Kamloops discovery, as well as the growing list of survivors who are dying each year.

"This is not an Indian problem. This is a Catholic problem, a problem they need to address," Thomas said.

"They need to do what's Christian and fix it."

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