Retired chief chosen to represent Saskatchewan on Vatican visit

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The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) has revealed 13 First Nations representatives who will travel to Vatican City in December to meet with Pope Francis.

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The AFN tasked each regional chief with choosing a representative to represent his province or territory. Bobby Cameron, the head of the Federation of Indigenous Sovereign Nations (FSIN), chose Mary-Ann de Walker Pelletier, the retired head of the Oakenese First Nation, to represent the Saskatchewan survivors.

“(Cameron) gave me an evening’s notice. I had to think about it because it’s a serious thing,” said de Walker Pelletier. “It’s a bitter thing but again, it’s an opportunity.”

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De Walker Pelletier is also a residential school survivor. When she was a child she attended Labrett Indian Residential School for seven years. He endured all kinds of abuses and those memories are with him even today.

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Going to the Vatican to meet the Pope is something she will be preparing herself for.

“I practice my culture and my traditional methods and use elders and ceremony for preparation,” she said. “I’ve reached out to Chief Bobby Cameron to coordinate (a meeting) within the next few weeks of some of the messages I use.”

Delegates from the First Nations will travel to Rome on 14 December before gathering with the Pope on 20 December. Each delegate will be given an hour to sit down with the Pope to talk about the effects of residential schools.

“What I hope to do is to send a message to the Pope,” said de Walker Pelletier. “A message about the effects of residential schools and also a message about unmarked graves.”

The retired chief hopes the visit to the Vatican will equip Pope Francis with information about his visit to Canada and his message to the survivors of the residential school he regrets.

“I don’t want to call it an apology, he has to say he’s sorry,” she said. “Forgiveness and forgiveness are two different things. ‘Sorry’ has to come from the heart and must have power. It needs to make an impact on our survivors.”

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The date of the Pope’s visit has not yet been announced.

The Indian Residential School Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419) is available 24 hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience.

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