When Taylor Behn-Tsakoza, a co-chair of the National Youth Council of the Assembly of First Nations, met with Francis on Thursday, she spoke “a lot about the doctrine of discovery,” she said. She asked him to rescind the papal bull, she said, and replace it with a new formal document that valued Indigenous people and their culture.
“We didn’t just come here to complain,” she said. “We offered him solutions as well.”
“My generation didn’t go to the residential schools but we still suffered the effects,” said Ms. Behn-Tsakoza. It had been difficult growing up and watching older generations “struggle every day to be proud of who they are,” she said.
After his meeting with Francis on Thursday, Phil Fontaine, another delegate and former residential-school student who, as national chief of the Assembly of the First Nations, first traveled to the Vatican in 2009 to ask for an apology from Pope Benedict XVI, expressed hope. He said he felt “on the verge of finally turning the corner on this issue that has befuddled so many in the past.” He added: “We heard the Holy Father say to us, ‘The church is with you,’ and that was an incredibly important statement.”
The church softened its stance on apologizing last year, after three Indigenous groups announced that ground-penetrating radar had discovered of signs of many hundreds of unmarked graves containing human remains, mostly those of children.
The first announcement came in May when a First Nation in British Columbia reported that a geophysical survey indicated that the remains of 215 people lay across a river from the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. The anthropologist who conducted the survey said that the size of many of the remains suggested that they were children, like among the missing.
“The eyes of the world have been upon us all week, in part because of what transpired in Kamloops,” Mr. Fontaine of the Assembly of First Nations said. “News of the discovery went worldwide and I am convinced at that point the church had nowhere else to go in terms of moving forward with us.”
Gerald Antoine, the Dene national chief, said the Indigenous people of Canada were looking forward to “to fully host the Holy Father Holy Father, and we are hoping that this will open a measure of trust, dignity and respect to all those people that have been harmed.”