Sask. Indigenous leaders calling on Pope to visit former residential school

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) is calling on the Catholic Church to arrange for the Pope to visit a former Saskatchewan residential school during his trip to Canada.

The FSIN is asking the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) to arrange for the July 2022 Papal visit to include Muskowekwan Indian Residential School near Muskowekwan First Nation – the last standing residential school in Saskatchewan.

“The Pope needs to visit one of our First Nations Saskatchewan, especially one where the site of the abuse still stands, to witness for himself the reality we are facing today and the work our First Nations are conducting in finding the unmarked graves of hundreds of our children,” FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron said in a news release.

At an event on the school site on Monday, the chief of Muskowekwan First Nation said a visit by the Pope could be a step in healing for the community.

“Forgiveness would be life changing for some that still believe in that way,” Chief Jamie Wolfe said. “I wouldn’t want to watch something like that on tv. I would want the person here in person, to have him come and say sorry for what you’ve had to endure in this school.”

Elaine Severight attended the school for one year when she was a child. She joined in the call for the Pope to visit the site.

“I welcome it,” she said. “I want to put closure to the graves and all that happened here. I want to put closure to that and let it go.”

Archbishop Don Bolen of the archdiocese of Regina also visited the school site on Monday to echo the invitation. He said he has very limited influence on the matter.

“You have my support in that regard. That would be a beautiful and powerful thing,” Bolen said.

The Archbishop said the Pope’s health is playing a factor in the upcoming visit to Canada.

“He’s not in good health,” Bolen explained. “We have been told that there are very few locations where he’s going to be able to visit for health reasons. Those decisions are still being worked on.”

He added several other communities, including Kamloops, have put requests in for a visit and it will be up to the Vatican to decide where stops are made.

At its peak, Saskatchewan had 22 residential schools, with at least half of those institutions operated by the Catholic Church, according to the FSIN.

Pope Francis apologized for the Catholic Church’s role in the Canadian residential school system following a visit with Indigenous delegations at the Vatican in March.

He also vowed to visit Canada to deliver the apology in person to survivors.

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If you are a former residential school student 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 at 1-866-925-4419, or the Indian Residential School Survivors Society toll free line at 1-800-721-0066.

Additional mental-health support and resources for Indigenous people are available here.