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Cree Chief: Pope’s apology fosters hope of healing for Canada's Indigenous peoples

Cree Chief Wilton Littlechild upholds Pope Francis’ Apostolic Journey to Canada as an important step on the path to reconciliation for the country’s Indigenous peoples, and expresses hope that it will bring about a more hopeful future for young people.

By Benedict Mayaki, SJ

On Monday – the first full day of his “Penitential pilgrimage” to Canada – Pope Francis apologized and expressed his deep sorry and remorse for the sufferings inflicted on Indigenous peoples, particularly for the forced assimilation they endured in the residential school system.

For Wilton Littlechild, Cree Chief, a residential school survivor and lawyer, the Pope’s words are a “very important step on the journey to reconciliation that started many years ago.”

The pioneer for the global Indigenous rights movement and first Treaty Indian Member of Parliament shared his thoughts on the Pope’s visit, and his hope for a future of healing and appeasement for Canada’s Indigenous peoples, in an interview with Vatican News’ Massimiliano Menichetti.

Pope Francis’ visit: A blessing

Chief Littlechild said he considers the Pope’s presence in Canada, especially in his home territory, as a “real blessing” and an “honor” – one that he did not expect.

He acknowledged that the Pope’s message and words of apology addressed to the Indigenous peoples were “healing words” for all, but noted that the path to reconciliation requires more effort.

The work begins after the Pope’s visit, said Chief Littlechild, “joining each other, working together, walking together towards peace and justice and reconciliation.”

Hope for reconciliation

Chief Littlechild shares in the optimism of the young people in the Indigenous populations who carry in their hearts the hope that reconciliation would happen in their lifetime.

He said that 70 percent of them, when asked if they thought they would live to see the day when reconciliation became reality, said “Yes, reconciliation will happen in our lifetime!”

Looking ahead, the Cree chief imagines a more hopeful future for these young people, whom he said will have a better chance through this process of reconciliation.

Penitential Pilgrimage

Pope Francis’s 37th Apostolic Journey to Canada is marked with an emphasis on the country’s Indigenous peoples. The Pope said that he has come to their land to tell them in person of his “sorrow”, “to implore God’s forgiveness, healing and reconciliation”, to express his closeness, and to pray with and for them.

During the homily at the Mass celebrated at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium on Tuesday, the Holy Father prayed for a future in which “the history of violence and marginalization suffered by our indigenous brothers and sisters is never repeated.”

Source: Vatican News