‘I needed to be here’: Indigenous delegates speak their truths

Representatives of the Metis, Inuit and First Nations peoples in Canada travelled to Rome this week at the invitation of Pope Francis to discuss the impacts of Canada’s residential schools.

The federally funded institutions operated from the late 1800s until 1997 with the goal of forcibly assimilating Indigenous children into the mainstream European culture.

Over 150,000 Indigenous children from across the country attended the schools and experienced physical, sexual, emotional, verbal and spiritual abuse. Thousands died while in attendance.

The Roman Catholic Church administered more than 60 percent of the schools and despite multiple pleas from survivors for an apology, the church has not yet given one.

During their meetings in the Italian capital, the Indigenous delegation – made up of community leaders, residential school survivors, and youth – told the pope about the horrors of the residential school system and asked for him to come to Canada to apologise on Indigenous lands.

“We paid the price as survivors, and my mother and all mothers paid the price for sending their kids to attend.

“At that time, we didn’t talk about it. We didn’t feel and we certainly didn’t trust anybody. Everything was kept in secrecy under the cloak of the Roman Catholic Church because those people [weren’t supposed to] do those things, we were told. They worked for God. So, we lived in our own jails with our own hurts and not knowing what to do and how to say things.

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