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WARNING: This story has disturbing details about residential and boarding schools. If you are feeling triggered, here is a resource list for trauma responses from the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition in the US. The National Indian Residential School Crisis Hotline in Canada can be reached at 1-866-925-4419.


EDMONTON, Alberta, Canada – Pope Francis stepped Sunday for the first time onto Indigenous lands of Canada,  arriving in the homelands of the Métis people in a city that has one of the largest concentrations of Indigenous people in the nation.

The Pontiff was greeted at Edmonton International Airport just after 1 p.m. Eastern Sunday by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau; Grand Chief George Arcand Jr. of the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations, and Mary May Simon, Inuk, Canada’s first Indigenous governor general.

—Related story: Pressure mounts for papal apology
Watch: Pope's visit will be livestreamed

Honor drumming from the Logan Alexis Singers also greeted his arrival as he began a six-day swing through Canada that he has called a “penitential pilgrimage.”

The Pope greeted and exchanged gifts with a number of Indigenous leaders, including Arcand; residential school survivors Vicki Arcand and Greg Desjarlais, chief of Frog Lake First Nation; and RoseAnne Archibald, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations.

Drums from the Logan Alexis Singers from the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation welcome Pope Francis on Sunday, July 24, 2022, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, on his "penitiential pilgrimage" across the nation. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

“This apology validates our experiences and creates an opportunity for the church to repair relationships with Indigenous peoples across the world,” Arcand said.

But he added, "It doesn’t end here – there is a lot to be done. It is a beginning.”

The pilgrimage will take the Pontiff through the lands of Canada’s three Indigenous peoples – First Nations, Métis and Inuit – with an expected apology Monday for the Catholic Church’s role in operating residential schools for decades that stripped Indigenous children of their families, culture and language.

In a land acknowledgement on the City of Edmonton’s website, the city recognizes the lands as Treaty Six Territory, referring to one in a series of treaties in the late 1800s between the government and Indigenous peoples.

“We would like to thank the diverse Indigenous Peoples whose ancestors’ footsteps have marked this territory for centuries, such as Nêhiyaw/Cree, Dené, Anishinaabe/Saulteaux, Nakota Isga/Nakota Sioux, and Niitsitapi/ Blackfoot peoples,” according to the statement on Edmonton’s website. “We also acknowledge this as the Métis’ homeland and the home of one of the largest communities of Inuit south of the 60th parallel.”

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The Pope will hold his first public event Monday at Maskwacis, Alberta - the home of two Cree First Nations and a center for three others. It is the former site of the Ermineskin Residential School, one of the largest schools operated in Canada by the Catholic Church.

He is expected to visit the school site, meet with First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities and deliver a formal address to the thousands of Indigenous people who have gathered at Maskwacis for the anticipated apology.

More than 150,000 Indigenous children in Canada were taken from their families and forced to attend residential schools starting in the late 1800s and continuing into the 1970s. Many died at school and were never returned to their families.

The Catholic Church operated nearly three-fourths of the 139 government-funded residential schools in Canada and more than one-fourth of the approximately 400 schools in the U.S.

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission called the residential school system “cultural genocide,” and the Indigenous people of Canada have long demanded an apology from the church. Pope Francis met privately in April with a delegation of Indigenous elders, knowledge keepers, survivors of residential schools and youth at the Vatican, where he apologized for the “deplorable” abuses children suffered in Canada’s Catholic-run residential schools.

But his apology suggested the abuses were by individuals and he did not acknowledge the church’s role in the destructive system, Indigenous leaders said. They have called upon the Pope to apologize as well for the Indian boarding schools in the United States, which served as a model for those in Canada.

The U.S. has trailed Canada in acknowledging the devastation wreaked by the boarding school system, though U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, issued a federal report earlier this year on the boarding school system and has launched a nationwide “Road to Healing” tour to gather testimony from survivors and others.

After speaking at Maskwacis, the Pope will return to Edmonton to perform mass Tuesday for thousands at Commonwealth Stadium. He then will travel to Lac Ste. Anne, a sacred site for Indigenous Catholics who bathe in the waters of the lake, before moving on Wednesday and Thurday to Quebec and the National Shrine of Ste. Anne de Beaupre in eastern Canada.

On Friday, July 29, he’ll travel to Iqaluit, Nunavut, the homelands of the Inuit people, where he will meet privately with former residential school survivors before leaving to return to the Vatican.

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Here is the full land acknowledgement from the City of Edmonton:
“The City of Edmonton acknowledges the traditional land on which we reside, is in Treaty Six Territory. We would like to thank the diverse Indigenous Peoples whose ancestors’ footsteps have marked this territory for centuries, such as nêhiyaw (Nay-hee-yow) / Cree, Dené (Deh-neyh), Anishinaabe (Ah-nish-in-ah-bay) / Saulteaux (So-toe), Nakota Isga (Na-koh-tah ee-ska) / Nakota Sioux (Na-koh-tah sue), and Niitsitapi (Nit-si-tahp-ee) / Blackfoot peoples. We also acknowledge this as the Métis’ (May-tee) homeland and the home of one of the largest communities of Inuit south of the 60th parallel. It is a welcoming place for all peoples who come from around the world to share Edmonton as a home. Together we call upon all of our collective, honoured traditions and spirits to work in building a great city for today and future generations.” 

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