“The tears that were shed in there, the stories that we exchanged back and forth, His Holiness accepted them with such grace and we were so touched when he asked, continued to ask, for the forgiveness from us,” he said, according to Reuters.
Chartrand said his delegation’s message was “somewhat different” than that of other indigenous Canadian delegations. Their own message was “more on hope and revitalization.”
The delegation gave Pope Francis two beaded crosses, made in an 1800s style. They also gave the pope two slippers. Chartrand explained: “the purpose of the slippers was for him to walk with us as we go in hope,” he said. “We can’t change the past, but we can change the future.”
“We definitely thank the pope and accept his apology and we also spoke of reconciliation,” he said, according to Reuters.
Chartrand said he invited the pope to visit Manitoba, adding that “we will find him if he cannot come to the Red River.” He added: “(I)t will not stop us from continuing to believe in the Church and continue to support the Catholic Church in Canada.”
A prominent Metis leader was also a topic of the meeting. Chartrand gave to Pope Francis a coin of Louis Riel, a nineteenth century Metis leader who helped found what would become the province of Manitoba.
Chartrand has voiced hope that if the pope visits Winnipeg, he will bless the grave of Reil.
Riel was from a devout Catholic family and at one point studied for the priesthood. He grew up in a time when the French-speaking, Catholic Métis people feared invasion from English-speaking Protestants from Ontario.
“Riel never carried a gun. He carried a cross,” Chartrand told CBC News.
Riel sent a delegation to Ottawa to negotiate his provisional government’s entry into the Canadian Federation. This group was led by a Catholic priest, Father Noel-Joseph Ritchot, The Canadian Press reports.
Riel also led Metis resistance movements against the Canadian government under Prime Minister John A. MacDonald. He was executed for treason on Nov. 16, 1885 and is buried in Winnipeg at Saint-Boniface Cathedral cemetery.
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Chartrand said the meeting with Pope Francis stressed the Red River Metis people’s links with the Church since 1817, when they petitioned a Catholic bishop to send them priests, “right through the present day.”
In recent decades the place of Indigenous Canadians has been the focus of historical investigation and recovery.
In the 1980s, former students of residential schools began to reveal some of the abuses they suffered, including physical, mental, and sexual abuse. A 2015 report from Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission compiled many alleged abuses and problems. The schools were poorly funded, poorly built, and poorly staffed. In addition to abuse and neglect, children there suffered a particularly high death rate due to diseases like tuberculosis, especially before the invention of penicillin.
Some 150,000 children attended residential schools in the 100 years or so that they operated. The schools, many of them run by Catholic institutions, were a government-led program to suppress the native languages and cultural practices of Indigenous peoples.