“We urge a reconsideration of the itinerary and the addition of another stop on this important trip,” said a statement from the Union of BC Indian Chiefs.

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BC First Nations leaders expressed “profound” disappointment Friday at news that Pope Francis will not visit the province during his trip to Canada in July.

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Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir said while she was “very appreciative” the pontiff will visit Canada this summer, she said it was “truly disappointing” he had not acknowledged invitations to meet and visit the former Catholic-run Kamloops Indian Residential School, the first site where the discovery last year of unmarked graves made international headlines.

“This I do see as a missed opportunity to come to Tk’emlups, ground zero, and hear directly from the survivors and the intergenerational survivors,” Casimir said Friday on a call with reporters. “While we understand the vastness of Canada and the need to make the trip manageable for him, it is really unfortunate that he will not have the opportunity to come to the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, the largest residential school in the country.”

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An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend residential schools in Canada, most of which were run by the Catholic Church.

The Vatican Friday announced that Pope Francis will stop in Alberta, Quebec and Nunavut between July 24 and 29. Indigenous leaders there welcomed news of the pontiff’s “historic visit” following his apology in Rome last month for the Catholic Church’s role in residential schools.

On April 1, after several days of meetings with First Nations, Inuit and Metis groups at the Vatican, Pope Francis apologized for the conduct of church members involved in residential schools, and said he would visit Canada.

The Union of BC Indian Chiefs issued a statement Friday, saying BC First Nations “have a profound sense of disappointment” that the Pope would not come to the province.

“The invitation by Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc to visit Kamloops Indian Residential School was supported by the (Union of BC Indian Chiefs) and all First Nations peoples, and non-Indigenous peoples,” the statement said. “We urge a reconsideration of the itinerary and the addition of another stop on this important trip.”

The Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program has a hotline to help residential school survivors and their relatives suffering trauma. The number is 1-866-925-4419.

— with file from Canadian Press

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