Former AFN National Chief from Manitoba wants Pope to apologize in Winnipeg

The Manitoba representative of a First Nations Delegation that met with the Pope in Rome Thursday morning is hopeful the visit will result in a long-awaited papal apology for the church’s role in Canada’s residential school system.

Phil Fontaine, former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, told a news conference after the First Nations delegation met with Pope Francis he believes there will be an apology on Canadian soil and Fontaine wants it to happen in Winnipeg.

“We heard the Holy Father say to us very clearly the church is with you,” Fontaine said in Rome. “That’s an incredibly important statement because the next thing we will hear is, ‘I am sorry.’ I’m absolutely convinced of that.”

Fontaine, who is from Sagkeeng First Nation, said all signs are pointing to an apology.

“I would expect that sometime this summer we will be paid a visit by the Holy Father,” Fontaine said. “And he’ll come to Canada to apologize.”

Thursday’s meeting with the Pope lasted two hours. Fontaine said the delegation presented its case for an apology and noted the Pope will respond to what he heard on Friday.

“He’s going to come back to us tomorrow. He’s not going to make a declaration ‘I’m going to Canada in July and I’m going to go apologize in Winnipeg,’ though that would be ideal for me,” Fontaine said. “Come to Canada, come to Winnipeg, apologize there.”

In 2015, Pope Francis apologized in Bolivia for the Catholic Church’s “grave sins” against Indigenous people.

Stephanie Scott, executive director of the Winnipeg-based National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (TRC), said in a statement that this week’s delegations are a step forward on the path to reconciliation.

“Having survivors speak their truth directly to the Pope this week will help move us towards education and healing,” Scott said.

“We remain hopeful that this apology will come, and for the specific actions requested by the delegations so the church can take responsibility for its egregious actions, the effects of which are still felt across communities and generations today.”

Scott noted Call to Action #58 as set out by the TRC specifically addresses getting an apology from the Pope for the church’s role “in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit, and Metis children in Catholic-run residential schools. We call for that apology to be similar to the 2010 apology issued to Irish victims of abuse and to occur within one year of the issuing of this report and to be delivered by the Pope in Canada.”

While it’s still unclear if the Pope will come to Canada to apologize, Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said in a statement he’d “welcome an opportunity for Winnipeg to host a visit from the Pope to apologize for the past and ongoing harms caused by the Catholic Church’s participation in the residential school system. Winnipeg would be an ideal location given our community’s robust efforts on reconciliation and human rights.”

Bowman, who noted it’s still too early to speculate on details given the Pope has not yet indicated his willingness to apologize or travel to Canada to issue an apology, said the city would be an ideal location, given the community’s robust efforts on reconciliation and human rights.

“Winnipeg is home to the largest population of Indigenous peoples in Canada, the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.”

If you are a residential school survivor in distress, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419.


Additional mental-health support and resources for survivors are available here:  

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