AFN chief criticizes lack of women prepared to speak in anticipated papal apology on Monday

When Pope Francis visits Maskwacis in Alberta on Monday to deliver an early apology for the Catholic Church’s role in Canada’s residential school system, the National Head of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) will be in the audience with the residential school survivors, but it won’t. be performing on stage.

Chief RoseAnne Archibald, speaking to media on Sunday, said she had just been told that day that she would not officially speak at Maskwacis, even though she planned to help welcome the pope.

This means there are no women in leadership roles involved in this event, he said, calling it “disturbing” in light of their request to be part of the official proceedings.

“There have been a lot of difficulties with this particular trip, and one of them is that there are no women in the leadership voices in this whole Edmonton process,” she said. “We had asked as National Chief to give me a minute or two to welcome the Pope to Maskwacis and be part of that official welcome to that territory along with the Chief and the Grand Chiefs, and today the Archbishop Smith told me that that would simply It wasn’t going to happen.”

Pope Francis arrived in Canada on Sunday for what he called a “penitential” trip, which will last six days and will see the pope travel to numerous communities across Canada with the aim of working towards reconciliation.

Beginning in the mid-19th century, indigenous children were forced to attend residential schools across Canada, with the intent of erasing their culture and language. Approximately 150,000 children passed through this system, suffering neglect and physical and sexual abuse, with the last school closing in 1996.

Although the Canadian government created the system, more than 60 percent of the schools were run directly by the Catholic Church.

For years, there have been calls for the pope to deliver an apology on Canadian soil, calls that only grew louder when hundreds of unmarked graves began to be confirmed in former residential schools last year. The pope’s first public statement in Canada will take place on Monday at Maskwacis, where the former Ermineskin Indian Residential School is located, and that apology is expected to be.

But while many are hopeful that the pope’s trip to Canada will aid in healing, it has not been a continuous process.

Archibald was among the delegation that greeted the pope at the Edmonton airport on Sunday.

“The first thing I did was, on behalf of the Turtle Island First Nations, welcome you to the land,” he said. “This was a promise that I made, that when he made his journey here, I would greet him, and that was part of it. I also asked him to revoke the Doctrine of Discovery, that was one of my requests when I saw him, and I also told him that I am looking forward to an apology from him tomorrow at Maskwacis.”

It is the only event I will attend, because it is in one of the old assimilation and genocide institutes, so I think it is important to be there with the survivors.”

Archibald also intended to speak at the event.

In a letter Friday to Archbishop Richard Smith of the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton, Archibald said he looked forward to welcoming the pope to Maskwacis as part of the day’s official program, saying he was looking forward to “an opportunity.” speak in Maskwacis” on stage after the traditional welcome to the territory.

Finding out Sunday from Archbishop Smith that she would not be part of the official proceedings was disappointing, she said, particularly as she was the only woman to participate in an official capacity.

“The other thing I said to Archbishop Smith is that I am really disappointed in the suppression of women’s voices, but what is the Church doing for women in leadership roles? Did they have women in leadership roles in the Church? t,” he said. “So this institution is archaic and needs to be modernized, and I know this pope has been working on some of that work, but there is a long way to go with the Church in relation to the oppression of women in particular.”

Archibald, who was elected AFN National Chief in 2021, is the first woman to hold the position. Although briefly suspended last month, a vote at the AFN general assembly in early July prevented her from continuing her suspension, keeping her in command.

The uncertainty over whether or not she is part of the official program at Maskwacis is felt as yet another example of the indigenous community being left behind in the planning process for the papal visit, he said.

In his letter on Friday, he added that the AFN had to determine the timetable based on the website of the papal visit.

“Despite the lack of concrete or written information about what is specifically happening across the country, my staff and I were able to glean from the information posted via the papal visit website and press clippings what we understand to be the case. it is the Pope’s itinerary,” he wrote. in the letter.

In previous statements, he has spoken out that First Nations are not “the driving force in planning this state visit”, stating that they have remained on the “periphery of the planning process” while the Catholic Church planned the majority. of the events.

On Sunday, he raised again his concern that the Church is also using the trip for fundraising.

“That is part of the problem that we have had with the Church is that they have not really included us in the proper planning of this process, this has been very unilateral and we do not feel that it has been about survivors, it has been more about the Church promotes the idea of ​​the Church, raising funds for the Church when they ask people to pick up their ticket,” he said.

Those who book their tickets for the papal event on Ticketmaster have been asked to donate money to a registered charity: the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, which Archibald called “inappropriate” in a separate letter on Friday.

“I want to remind people that this is about survivors, that this whole process is about supporting and standing by and behind our survivors,” she said. “We have to refocus on what we’re really doing here, and it’s about survivors accepting, or not accepting, and listening to the pope’s apology.”

Although Archibald is not a residential school survivor, her mother, sister and two brothers attended St. Anne’s in Northern Ontario.

“Four members of my immediate family were in an assimilation and genocide institution, so even while flying here, I was so overwhelmed with emotion and there were different moments on the plane where I really had to hold myself back from bursting into a deep sob. “, said. “I am an intergenerational trauma survivor, and there are a lot of people like me, but there are real survivors who will be at the event tomorrow, and the emotional level will be so raw and high in terms of pain and suffering. .”

Archibald added that despite the problems that have already come up in this papal visit, she told the pope at the airport on Sunday that she was looking forward to “walking that path of healing.”

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