“Kitatamihin. Your Holiness. Welcome to our land”. With these words the Holy Father was greeted by Cree Chief Wilton Littlechild, who, on behalf of the First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities, expressed deep appreciation for “the great personal effort” the Pope has made to meet Indigenous peoples in their homeland.
“You have travelled a long way to be with us on our land, and to walk with us on the path of reconciliation” said Usow-Kihew (“Golden Eagle”) as he is known in his Cree community.
“The vast expanse of land called Canada” he continued, “which the Indigenous Peoples refer to as part of Turtle Island, is the traditional homeland of the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Peoples. Here in Maskwacis we are on Treaty Six land, the ancestral territory of the Cree, Dene, Blackfoot, Saulteaux and Nakota Sioux people since time immemorial”.
“I was a student here at the Ermineskin residential school, which, for your visit among us this day, represents all the residential schools of our country. Gathered here this morning with the people of Maskwacis are residential school survivors, Chiefs, leaders, elders, knowledge keepers and youth from First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities across our land”, he said.
“As a former Commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, I have heard nearly 7,000 testimonies from former students of residential schools in this country”.
“During the recent visit to your home at the Vatican by a delegation of Indigenous survivors, elders, knowledge keepers, and youth”, he continued, addressing the Pope, “you also heard of the abuse so many of our people have suffered at this and other residential schools. During our time with you, it was clear to us all that you listened deeply and with great compassion to the testimonies that told of the way our language was suppressed, our culture taken from us, and our spirituality denigrated. You have heard the devastation that followed from the way our families were torn apart. The words you spoke to us in response clearly came from the depths of your heart, and were for those who heard them a source of deep comfort and great encouragement. On that occasion you expressed your intention to visit with us on our land and in this way express your strong desire to be close to us”.
“And now, Your Holiness, you have come to our land in response to our invitation, and as you promised. You have said that you come as a pilgrim, seeking to walk together with us on the pathway of truth, justice, healing, reconciliation, and hope. We gladly welcome you to join us on this journey. As you acknowledged in your address to us in Rome, we Indigenous Peoples strive always to consider the impact of present events and deliberations on future generations. In that spirit, — he concluded — we sincerely hope that our encounter this morning, and the words you share with us, will echo with true healing and real hope throughout many generations to come”.