Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Only days away from meeting Pope Francis in the Vatican, Mitchell Case admits he’s not sure how to feel or what he expects to take away from the experience.
“I don’t know. I think my experience has been whenever I get a chance to spend a week with some really, really cool Métis Elders, that usually has an impact on me and changes me for the better. I can speak more to that experience because I’ve spent my life meeting with Métis Elders, not meeting the Pope. I can’t really tell you,” said Case, who is one of nine members comprising the Métis National Council (MNC) delegation.
The MNC, along with delegations from the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) and the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), will be leaving this weekend for Rome. Each delegation has scheduled separate meetings with Pope Francis, with MNC and ITK meeting with him on March 28 and the AFN on March 31. There will then be a joint meeting with the Pope on April 1.
Case, 31, is a councillor and former youth president for the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO). Previously he worked as director of student services at Shingwauk Kinoomaage Gamig in Sault Ste. Marie. The First Nation post-secondary school is located on the site of the former Shingwauk residential school.
Case’s great grandmother attended that school. While she passed away before he was born, he says family members said she would only confirm she went there and would never say more about her experience.
“In some ways I’ve been preparing for this most of my life. I’ve spent most of my career working with residential school survivors and I feel like they have prepared me in a lot of ways,” he said.
Case is not Catholic. He was raised Anglican, but for the past 10 years has practised traditionally and spiritually with the Three Fires Midewiwin Lodge. He says his Anglican priest from his hometown St. James parish says they will be praying for him this Sunday.
The Anglican Church also operated Indian residential schools in Canada. However, unlike the Catholic Church, the Anglicans have issued an apology for their part in the system, which came in 1992.
Case says he’s looking forward to travelling with the Elders who are part of the delegation.
“That’s the real importance of this. To go along with them and listen to them and hear what they tell the Pope and hear what they tell us,” said Case. “For me, being with Elders, those are the moments that are really, really impactful.”
While Case has his own message he would like to deliver to the Holy Father, he says it’s unclear if he’ll get the opportunity. He says last minute complications with translation “will eat into part of the time.”
If he does get to deliver his message, he says, it will be based on remarks Pope Francis wrote years ago: “Confession cleans the sinner’s soul, it doesn’t help the victim. Our whole church is in need of forgiveness. Where is our humility? Sin is a wound, a stain. It needs to be treated, healed. Forgiveness is not enough.”
“My message to the Pope is the Catholic Church hasn’t even apologized,” said Case “You haven’t even got to the confession part, never mind the restitution, never mind healing the victim. I’ve written it much more eloquently than that.”
The MNC will be raising its voice along with the other delegations to have Pope Francis come to Canada to issue a formal apology.
The Pope has indicated his willingness to visit Canada after receiving a letter of invitation from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops last year. No date or place has been set for that visit and the Pope has not committed to making an apology.
Speaking in a virtual media event yesterday, NWT Regional Chief Gerald Antoine, who is leading the AFN’s delegation, said, “Our hope is that this visit and a potential visit from the Pope coming to our home here in our territories provides some measure of dignity and also respect for those survivors and the intergenerational survivors of the residential schools.”
Antoine, who is the AFN portfolio holder for residential schools and survivors, is one of 11 delegates, representing every region across the country, and two spiritual advisors making the trip. National Chief RoseAnne Archibald is not part of the delegation. However, former national chief Phil Fontaine, whose meeting with Pope Benedict XVI in 2009 did not result in an apology, will be making a return trip as the Manitoba representative. Also going is Kukpi7 Rosanne Casimir of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation, representing BC. The first unmarked residential school graves were found in her community at the former Kamloops residential school.
Beyond providing recommendations to the Pope on how he can come to Canada and apologize, the AFN will also be asking the Pope to revoke the 1493 Doctrine of Discovery or terra nullius, and at the same time recognizing the value of Indigenous culture; returning the lands the church has on First Nations back to the First Nations; and making a long-term financial commitment to ensure supportive programs for survivors and intergenerational survivors.
Grand Chief of Quebec Cree Mandy Gull Masty, who is also part of the AFN delegation, says it’s important the Pope and church understand that their commitment does not end with an apology.
“I have a lot of confidence in the message that has been chosen and I am very open and willing to listen and engage with the Catholic Church and the Pope to hear how he intends to respond. I think the obligation is on his part to understand that this delegation is one of diplomacy. But I do think that he is in a position where receiving this delegation there has to be additional steps on his part,” said Gull Masty.
To that end, points out Case, MNC President Cassidy Caron, who is also making the trip to Rome, has arranged for meetings with other high-ranking members of the Vatican. Those include heads of the congregation of the doctrine of the faith, congregation for Catholic education, of the Vatican archives, of the Vatican museum, and of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. They are still waiting to have other meetings confirmed.
Case says discussions will include the release of more residential school records.
President Natan Obed is the only ITK representative although he will be accompanied by seven or eight other Inuit delegates, said ITK spokesperson Patricia D’Souza.
As for the Manitoba Métis Federation, which broke from the MNC last September, they have no representation as part of the MNC delegation.
“The Red River Métis Nation, with its government, the Manitoba Métis Federation, will continue to work on a schedule to visit the Vatican,” said MMF spokesperson Kat Patenaude in a statement to Windspeaker.com.
The meeting with the Pope had initially been scheduled for mid-December 2021 but had to be postponed due to coronavirus concerns.
Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.