Former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Phil Fontaine speaks during the City of Calgary’s anti-racism hearing on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. Gavin Young/Postmedia

By Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Published Oct 21, 2021

A prominent Indigenous voice in Manitoba who survived Canada’s residential school system has been chosen to represent the province when a First Nations delegation travels to Rome to meet with the Pope later this year.

On Wednesday, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) Regional Chief Cindy Woodhouse announced that Phil Fontaine will act as the Manitoba representative to the delegation that is headed to the Vatican for four days of meetings scheduled with Pope Francis starting on Dec 17.

“Mr. Fontaine will participate in discussions regarding reconciliation with First Nations for the role of the Catholic Church in the administration of the former Indian Residential Schools, and the need for an official apology from the Pope on behalf of the Catholic Church,” Woodhouse said in a Wednesday statement.

Fontaine is a former AMC Grand Chief and three-time AFN National Chief, and he led negotiations that resulted in the 2006 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA).

According to AMC, Fontaine began speaking more than 30 years ago about his own traumatic experiences at the Fort Alexander Residential School, which ran for decades on the Sagkeeng First Nation, about 120 kilometres north of Winnipeg.

“Those revelations, along with the voices of other survivors, led to increased awareness of the legacy of Canada’s residential school system,” AMC said.

The December meeting in Rome was organized after the recent discovery of unmarked graves on the grounds of former residential schools in British Columbia and Saskatchewan in May and June of this year, and AMC said the discoveries have sparked renewed attention to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Final Report and 94 Calls to Action.

“Many of the Calls to Action remain unaddressed, including the need for an apology from the Pope to Survivors, their families, and communities for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit and Métis children in Catholic-run residential schools,” AMC said.

Over the course of Canada’s residential school system’s more than 100-year existence, approximately 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their homes and their families and forcibly placed into residential schools across the country.

This item is reprinted with permission from Winnipeg Sun. See article HERE.

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