Politics

Ottawa announces more than $30M for Indigenous communities, organizations to mark papal visit

The federal government announced on Wednesday more than $30 million in new funding to support Indigenous communities and organizations during the papal visit.

Funding to cover cost of travel for residential school survivors, community events

Pope Francis presides over a mass for the Congolese community in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on July 3, 2022. (Andrew Medichini/AP)

The federal government announced on Wednesday more than $30 million in new funding to support Indigenous communities and organizations during the upcoming papal visit.

Pope Francis will tour Canada from July 24 to 29. The goal of the visit is to advance reconciliation and healing between the Roman Catholic Church, First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities.

During the trip, he's expected to expand on an apology he delivered at the Vatican last spring for residential school abuse in institutions run by his church.

Ottawa is making $30.2 million available to Indigenous communities and organizations to cover the travel costs of residential school survivors who want to see the Pope in person, according to a statement from the office of Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller.

The money can also be used for cultural events and ceremonies — however communities see fit to mark the historic occasion.

Survivors should get in touch with their local governments to arrange travel, said a senior government source who was not authorized to speak publicly.

The same source said survivors travelling to see the Pope are eligible to bring a family member with them for support.

The source also said communities and organizations are expected to learn by the end of the week how much they will receive for the papal visit, and the money will be distributed before the Pope arrives.

10 days to get money out the door

"I really feel it's good news," said residential school survivor Ted Quewezance from Keeseekoose First Nation, about 285 kilometres northeast of Regina.

"The only issue is the timeframe."

Quewezance said planning for the visit feels like a big scramble. He's worried the new federal funding is coming too late for some survivors.

Ted Quewezance, a residential school survivor and former chief of Keeseekoose First Nation in Saskatchewan, is worried the funding announcement comes too late for many survivors. (Alexander Quon/CBC)

Minister Miller said he is aware of those concerns.

"That is perhaps our biggest worry: that people are out an arm and a leg," said Miller in an interview with CBC News.

"When people are just waiting to hear the words 'I'm sorry' from the Pope … We want to make sure that that experience isn't prevented ... simply by lack of funds."

Miller said the funding will be distributed the same way COVID-19 supports were sent to communities. 

If some survivors are left with additional expenses, he said the government is prepared to offer more help.

"I can't say that every single cost will be reimbursed by the Government of Canada, but what I can say is that communities will have options with respect to how they compensate survivors," Miller said. 

Feds also covering cost of Pope's security

An additional $3 million is being made available to Indigenous partners in the three regions — Edmonton, Quebec City and Iqaluit — that are hosting the papal visit, according to Miller's office.

It added another $2 million will be spent on Indigenous language interpretation for the papal visit.

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller said more financial support may be made available for Indigenous communities and organizations that request it. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Ottawa is also covering the cost of the Pope's security. The exact details have not been announced.

More than 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were forced to attend church-run, government-funded residential schools between the 1870s and 1997.

The Roman Catholic Church ran most of the institutions. 

In its final report, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission urged the Pope to apologize on Canadian soil for the church's role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children in Catholic-run residential schools. 

It demanded that the apology be made within one year of the release of its report in 2015.

Canadian bishops pay programming costs

In a statement to CBC News, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) couldn't provide a figure for how much it's spending on the papal visit because of the "number of parties participating and the evolving set of requests."

But the CCCB did say the cost is expected to be more modest than previous papal visits due to the shorter length of the trip, and the significant use of volunteers and seconded professionals. 

It noted some individual dioceses are covering travel costs for survivors and local events for communities. 

Pope Francis welcomes a delegation from the Assembly of First Nations to the Vatican on March 31, 2022. (Vatican Media/Catholic Press Photo)

The CCCB is covering major event and programming costs, such as lodging, security and equipment for presenters, volunteers and staff, a spokesperson said.

It's also footing the bill to transport participating elders and survivors to events by local buses.

"Unlike past papal visits, we will not be charging admission fees for any events," the CCCB statement said.

"It is important to us to ensure that there are no financial barriers to attendance, particularly for Indigenous people, and we are grateful to the many private donors who have stepped up to help us make this a reality."

The CCCB set up a financial campaign for the papal visit.

As a registered charity, a spokesperson said more information will become available once the CCCB reports its expenses and fundraising at the end of the fiscal year.

The Quebec archdiocese expects to spend about $3 million alone on the Pope's visit, according to Benoît Thibault, the deacon in charge of the planning committee in Quebec. He said much of that funding will come from donations.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Olivia Stefanovich

Senior reporter

Olivia Stefanovich is a senior reporter for CBC's Parliamentary Bureau based in Ottawa. She previously worked in Toronto, Saskatchewan and northern Ontario. Connect with her on Twitter at @CBCOlivia. Story tips welcome: olivia.stefanovich@cbc.ca.

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