Canada: Bishops hold historic meeting with First Nation Chief over Indian Residential schools

 The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Phil Fontaine met yesterday for the first time with a group of Catholic bishops to discuss ongoing efforts toward healing and reconciliation with First Nations as part of the Indian Residential Schools experience. The meeting, held in Ottawa, is the latest in a series initiated by National Chief Fontaine. In May 2004, he first met with a group of women religious leaders in Winnipeg to foster dialogue on healing and reconciliation with Catholic religious entities that were involved with Indian Residential Schools (IRS). Over the last two years, the National Chief has also met with Catholic women and men religious members and their leaders in Montreal and Ste-Hyacinthe, Quebec, Winnipeg, Manitoba, and Edmonton, Alberta. National Chief Fontaine appreciated the opportunity to meet to with the bishops. He said: "I recognize that thousands of Catholic men and women religious members worked during the Indian Residential Schools era in what they sincerely believed to be in the best interest of Indian Residential School students. However, it is important for these religious entities to both openly acknowledge their role in Indian Residential Schools and to hear directly from First Nations regarding their experiences. The assistance and participation of the Catholic entities are integral in the healing and reconciliation process." "We view the Catholic entities as allies in the challenging healing process that Indian Residential School survivors and their families are going through. We want to continue working together at the local community level with individual Catholic religious members. The close cooperation of all stakeholders is crucial to the success of the implementation of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission." As a participant in the meeting, The Most Reverend Sylvain Lavoie, OMI, Archbishop of Keewatin-Le Pas, said "we are grateful for the support and cooperation of First Nations leaders, such as AFN National Chief Fontaine. We have always seen this healing and reconciliation process as an essential part of our relationship with Catholic and non-Catholic Aboriginal communities and expect this relationship to evolve as we, together, move beyond the legacy of the flawed IRS system." Archbishop Lavoie mentioned current activities in his diocese include three IRS healing programs in collaboration with First Nations communities i Manitoba and Saskatchewan. He said they are also asking new priests coming to the diocese to learn Dene, Cree and Oji-Cree as a way of supporting the culture and the language. He indicated efforts to repair and restore their relationship with First Nations started decades before a formal agreement was reached in 2006 between the 50 Catholic entities and the federal government, and that a large number of initiatives by Catholics have taken place throughout Canadian dioceses, even during the long judicial proceedings and negotiations over the last five years. Archbishop Lavoie expressed appreciation for the active role taken by AFN National Chief Fontaine in the negotiation process leading to the Settlement Agreement with the federal government regarding Indian Residential School claims and class-action suits. The Assembly of First Nations is the national organization representing First Nations citizens in Canada. Source: CCBC

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