Tk’emlups te Secwepemc band is crafting a statement, expected to be released Thursday morning (Oct. 28), regarding news that Pope Francis intends to visit Canada to help reconciliation efforts with the nation’s Indigenous population.
On Wednesday, the Vatican announced the Pope has accepted an invitation from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops to visit the country on a date yet to be determined.
Tk’emlups spokesperson Racelle Kooy said chief and council are crafting a statement of response, which may include a request for Francis to visit the band.
Kooy said she expects the statement to include the request, but is not sure yet as nothing has been confirmed. She said she has reminded council of what the band has asked for to date and that council determines what else it wishes to request from the Pope’s visit.
Tk’emlups Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir has called for an apology from Pope Francis to survivors of residential schools, and their families, for the church’s role in the abuses First Nations students were subjected to while attending the Catholic-run residential schools — which is recommendation number 58 of the National Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report.
The band demanded the papal apology in May, after it announced it had discovered signs of 200 probable, unmarked graves on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School using a ground-penetrating radar survey, generating international attention. The May announcement led to further GPR searches, which yielded more signs of probable graves at other residential school sites in B.C. and Saskatchewan over the summer.
To date, Tk’emlups has not yet done any excavation at the site to confirm if remains are there.
Following Tk’emlups’ announcement, Francis expressed sorrow over the “shocking discovery,” but has stopped short of issuing a direct apology for the church’s role in the resident school system.
On June 6, Francis issued an appeal to political and religious authorities of Canada to work together to shed light on the matter and commit to “a path of reconciliation and healing”
In a tweet, he also called “for everyone to turn away from the colonial model and walk side by side in dialogue, mutual respect and recognition of the rights and cultural values of all the daughters and sons of Canada,” but did not mention Indigenous peoples specifically.
The band’s May announcement has led to apologies, however, from various denominations of the Catholic Church, including the Vancouver archdiocese and the Kamloops dioceses.
The Kamloops Indian Residential School closed in 1978. From the early 1800s to 1969, it was operated by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, which in recent months issued an apology for its role in residential schools, as has The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.
From 1969 to 1978, the school was operated by the federal government.
In a statement, Assembly of First Nations National Kukpi7 Roseanne Archibald said she will welcome Pope Francis when he arrives to “issue a long overdue apology to survivors and intergenerational trauma survivors.”
Archibald is also calling on the Catholic Church to make a number of reparations, including returning diocese land properties to First Nations, on whose traditional lands the church sits, and to make an investment in long-term healing initiatives beyond a recent commitment of $30 million from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.
A Canadian delegation of national Indigenous organizations is expected to visit the Pope in mid-December at the Vatican.
The Pope’s visit to Canada is not expected to occur before the end of the year.
Canada’s residential schools were created in a bid to assimilate Indigenous children and were operated, on behalf of the federal government, by a number of Christian organizations, the majority of which were Catholic Church entities. The first institutions opened in the mid-19th century and the last closed in 1996.