Pope Francis is coming to Edmonton, Iqaluit, and Québec City in July
In late March, for the first time ever, Indigenous delegates went to Rome to share the stories of residential school survivours. After days of songs and stories, Pope Francis sat in front of the delegates and expressed an apology and sorrow for what occurred inside residential schools and the impacts they have had on Indigenous nations.
Last month, the Pope announced that he will be coming to Canada in July. He is expected to apologize formally to Indigenous people on their lands. This visit is going to be the fourth ever papal visit to the lands referred to as Canada. All the previous visits were made by Pope John Paul II, who came twice in the 1980s and most recently in 2005. Apologies have been fought for over many years by Indigenous residential school survivors and advocates, but the discovery last year finally set these events into motion.
In Kamloops in May 2021, a radar test done by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc on the grounds of a former residential school uncovered the unmarked graves of 215 Indigenous children. Following this, there were over 1 000 other graves found at former Canadian residential schools.
All these discoveries, especially the initial discovery in Kamloops — and the heightened attention and knowledge on the topic of residential schools and the atrocities committed at those sites among Canadians — led to the Vatican inviting Indigenous delegates to come and share experiences a year later in April 2022.
Since the Kamloops discovery led to the increased attention on this movement for justice, the leadership of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc and some other nations have been pushing for the Pope to visit Kamloops. However, the announcement of his visit this May brought disappointment.
The Vatican has announced that the pope will be visiting Québec City, Iqaluit, and Edmonton. They have given the reason that his health has rapidly declined, so he is only able to visit a few hubs during his visit to Canada.
The fact that the Vatican has ignored leadership of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc and other nations in their requests for the Pope to visit Kamloops is extremely disrespectful.
Without the work of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, there would not have been such a huge push for justice for Indigenous residential school survivours. The work and the pain of the nation brought unprecedented attention to the issue of residential schools in this country.
Orange shirts were seen everywhere. There was constant media attention and action taken by governments, both federal and provincial, and it was this that eventually gave impetus to the Vatican government’s response.
The Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc deserve all the recognition, and there should, at the very least, be a statement by the Vatican explaining clearly why they could not substitute one of the stops on the trip to visit Kamloops.
This decision to completely overlook the desires of survivours and leadership is exactly the issue with the Vatican. It shows that, even after the Pope claimed that the Catholic Church is going forward with relations, they do not want it to be an equitable relationship. They will not allow relations to happen unless they are on the terms of the Church, rather than facilitating dialogue in order to make decisions.
Many Indigenous people have little to no trust in the Vatican to begin with. The government there needs to be more willing and open to negotiating with Indigenous people before they can receive any trust. Ignoring many calls to visit a certain location that holds great significance does not reflect well on the Vatican, and it is not a great start to creating a relationship between the Catholic Church and Indigenous people.