Manitoba Metis delegation heads to Rome for meeting with Pope Francis

WINNIPEG — A Metis group from Manitoba was flying to Rome on Monday ahead of a meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican later this week.

The delegation from the Manitoba Metis Federation on Thursday will be the first to meet the head of the Roman Catholic Church since he apologized to Indigenous people for the deplorable conduct of church members involved in residential schools.

The Pope apologized at the Vatican early this month following a week of meetings with Metis, Inuit and First Nations delegates.

The Manitoba Metis Federation had a separate meeting organized with Francis.

Delegates include residential school survivors, elders and youth.

David Chartrand, the federation’s president, says many Metis are deeply connected to the church.

“Now that His Holiness has issued an apology to all Indigenous peoples, we can focus our meeting on the relationship between the Red River Metis and the Catholic Church _ past, present, and future,” Chartrand said in a news release Monday.

Some bishops will be accompanying the Manitoba Metis delegates to the Vatican.

“It is the desire of all the Bishops in Canada to move forward with reconciliation and to build strong relationships with Canada’s Indigenous Peoples,” Richard Gagnon, Archbishop of Winnipeg, said in a news release.

An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend residential schools, more than 60 per cent of which were run by the Catholic Church.

On April 1, the pontiff stood before a room of nearly 200 Indigenous delegates and asked for God’s forgiveness for the actions of the Catholic Church.

“I want to say to you with all my heart: I am very sorry,” Francis said in Italian. “And I join my brothers, the Canadian bishops, in asking your pardon.”

Francis also said he would come to Canada, possibly this summer.

Chartrand said he will request the Pope come to Manitoba to “understand why we need to renew our relationship, particularly in our small and remote communities, many of which the church is a central part of.”

A Catholic priest played a significant role in Metis leader Louis Riel’s founding of what would become Manitoba. Rev. Noel-Joseph Ritchot led the delegation Riel sent to Ottawa to negotiate the provisional government’s entry into Confederation.

Riel himself was Catholic but also wrote about his issues with the church.

The Manitoba Metis Federation organized the separate meeting with the Pope after the group withdrew from the Metis National Council in 2021 following years of internal conflict.

The Metis National Council was part of the larger delegation earlier this month.

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