Metis historian and educator Mitchell Case. Photo by Michael Swan

'Today is the beginning of something'

By 
  • March 28, 2022

Hard truths and deep prayer marked the Metis delegation’s hour with Pope Francis, said bishops who were in the room when nine Metis elders and residential school survivors spoke with the Pope.

“A lot of hard truths were spoken, but they were spoken in a very gracious, poignant and eloquent way,” Regina Archbishop Don Bolen told dozens of journalists gathered at a Rome hotel and listening in on a live feed.

In French, Canadian Catholic Conference of Bishops president Bishop Raymond Poisson said he witnessed a “heart to heart” exchange between the Metis delegates and Pope Francis. The exchange was filled with “mutual affection,” the bishop said.

“I will take these reflections with me in my prayer and also in my meditation,” said Poisson, switching to English.

Recalling the stories Metis survivors told Pope Francis in the first of three planned encounters between the Pope and Indigenous delegations in Rome brought Metis historian and educator Mitchell Case to tears. Case spoke of how the meetings and the coverage they are generating from Canadian and global press will validate Metis identity for the next generation, including his own nieces and nephews who are beginning to learn the Michif language that was suppressed at residential schools in their grandparents’ generation.

“Today is the beginning of something,” Case said, later adding “We’re going to work to make the world better for those little kids.”

For Metis, who were excluded from the 2006 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement and from the subsequent Truth and Reconciliation Commission proceedings, the meeting with Pope Francis is particularly significant, Case said.

“This is the first time any Metis survivors have been invited to say anything,” he said.

The Metis want to see reconciliation carried into the future at the level of individual Catholics and parishes.

“You can bet you will see me holding my hand out and going to the churches and asking how we can go forward together in a good way,” said interim president of the Fraser Valley Metis Association Pixie Wells.

Wells urged Canadians to plant Forget-Me-Nots in their gardens this spring, the flower also known as the Metis Rose, as a sign of reconciliation.

“Reconciliation did not begin with the meeting today with Pope Francis and it did not finish today,” said Metis National Council president Cassidy Caron.

Caron took pains to emphasize that the harm done by residential schools isn’t just a matter of history.

“We know that intergenerational trauma is embedded in our DNA,” she said. “The science has been done. We’re passing this trauma on to our children…. We need action. An apology is just words.”

Case derided what he called “the reconciliation industry.”

“All this money isn’t getting to Metis,” he said. “Our people are still living in poverty. We sell Indian tacos at the community centre to fund basic needs.”

The most important thing that can happen out of the meetings here in Rome and a subsequent visit to Canada from Pope Francis is a 180-degree turn away from the message of Catholic-run residential schools, said Caron.

“Our children came home (from Catholic-run schools, including day schools) hating who they are,” she said.

Their message today is, “We are still here… We love our culture. We love our language,” said Caron.

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