President's Message - April 28, 2022

April 28, 2022

It was a historic week for our Nation, and we are now back in our Homeland after an unforgettable pilgrimage to meet His Holiness in Rome. I am tremendously proud of how our delegates represented our Nation with dignity, pride, heart, and faith. I know all our Citizens will be equally proud of them as we return to our communities and begin sharing the important story of our journey and the messages we carry in our hearts and minds from the Holy Father.

I wish I could share the memories in my mind with each and every one of you, so you could feel what your delegation felt in the presence of His Holiness. I can only begin to tell you about our interactions with him in this message, but I look forward to sharing more with Citizens in the coming weeks and months.

I can tell you that our delegates took their responsibilities seriously, as they represented the many voices of our people who could not be with us in person. Each spoke of their experiences, including the pain and harm caused by predators, evil doers who hid behind the Catholic Church and created such lasting hurt within our Nation. These individuals created lasting intergenerational trauma that is still felt in many of our families today. I know our speakers draw comfort from the fact that if these people have not already faced the consequences of their deeds in this world, they will face them in the next.

The Holy Father listened carefully and closely to each one of the speakers, at times looking at them with emotional expressions while they spoke and at others, seeming to pray as he heard their words. There were many feelings expressed in the room that day, and many tears shed by our people as we presented our truths to Pope Francis.

I can tell you with great confidence that his response to our interaction, including his apology to our people, was heartfelt, and that his facial expression and words showed the deep shame and sadness he felt for what these priests and nuns did to us. He took full responsibility for these actions as the leader of the Catholic Church, and we accepted his apology on behalf of our Nation.

I personally spoke with His Holiness about our history and our relationship with the Catholic Church, including how we worked to protect religious freedoms in Canada and helped bring the Northwest into Canadian Confederation. I also talked about the role priests and missionaries played in helping our Nation do this important work.

We shared a scroll with His Holiness that highlights our historic relationship with the Church. We had it translated into Spanish, which is his first language. From the Battle of Seven Oaks, also known as the Victory of Frog Plain, where we first proclaimed our nationhood, to the 1817 petition sent to the Church asking them to send priests to build churches in our community. This cooperation was ongoing to the days of Father Ritchot, who was a strong supporter of Louis Riel and the Métis families, and acted as our negotiator when we joined Canada's Confederation, all the way to the apology we received. We wanted to make sure His Holiness, Pope Francis, knew our history and our people.

While it was difficult to share all of our history in a one-hour meeting, we certainly gave him a sense of who we are and how we worked with the Church in the past, as well as the role faith played in Louis Riel's life and leadership.

We made the request to the Holy Father that, if he was able, it would be a highly meaningful act of reconciliation for all Red River Métis if he could make his way to the heart of our Homeland to bless Riel's grave and Father Ritchot's grave. We won't know for some time if he can come to Manitoba, given his health, his trip, his being limited; but if he can't, I promised that we would come to him wherever he goes in Canada.

As is traditional in our culture, we also brought gifts of cultural significance, including a red cross beaded by master artist Jennine Krauchi. This cross included a small pair of beaded slippers to help him remember that we are on a journey together, walking side by side. We also presented a larger black beaded cross by Prairie Owl Beads, along with a pair of authentic Métis slippers of the Red River with prairie flowers and a cross on the vamp. We encouraged him to wear the slippers, for comfort and to help him remember us as we walk the path to the future together. We also presented him with a Louis Riel coin designed by Métis artist David Garneau, which was officially launched at a special celebration in Winnipeg on the 175th anniversary of Louis Riel's birth.

It was clear to us all that he took the time to understand us in advance of our visit. He referenced the fact that we are a maternal nation, and talked about the connection between our Youth and Elders, along with our values around sharing as an expression of caring. He also made the personal choice to greet each and every delegate, shake their hand and gift them with a blessed rosary, along with the beautiful olive branch for our Nation, which will make its way to our new Heritage Centre at Portage and Main. We also brought copies of our self-government agreement, signed July 6 of 2021. It is now signed and blessed by His Holiness and will join the olive branch in your new Heritage Centre at Portage and Main, to mark this historic event for our Nation.

Every delegate who was there felt his effort to connect with us, and the honour he was paying our culture.

His apology, his actions in our encounter, and the time and energy he took to understand our traditions, showed us all that he is truly a Pope of God first, and the Vatican second. We now have a clear pathway for our journey forward with the Catholic Church, renewing our relationship that stems back to the very beginning of our Nation. I look forward to seeing where this journey takes us.

I will also say that it has been a number of years since we have been able to travel together in a delegation of this size. I know it did all of our hearts good to be able to come together as a community and practice our traditional ways, including taking care of each other and working together for the well-being of our group. I want to extend a special thanks to our Youth for supporting our Elders and indeed, all delegates. Whether it was providing help with navigating all the digital and health requirements for travel in a post-COVID world, or making sure everyone was fed, hydrated, safe, and comfortable, our Youth showed all the values that make our Nation strong. I congratulate Kyra De La Ronde, our elected Youth representative, for her leadership and endless energy. She is truly an inspiration for all our Youth. The days were very long, many starting at 6:30 am.

Along with our time with the Holy Father, we visited the Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore, which was built in 437 AD for the Blessed Virgin Mary and contains Jesus' baby crib along with pieces of the cross that Jesus was crucified on. We attended mass at the Basilica before and after our visit with Pope Francis. We also went to a town called Anzio to visit the resting places of our Canadian war veterans, and pay tribute to our fallen Canadian heroes, who gave their lives in defence of democracy. I know that dying on foreign soil and being forgotten was one of the biggest fears of many of our soldiers, so it is important that we take the time to honour them. This beautifully maintained and peaceful site is cared for with pride by the groundskeepers, and we paid tribute to the 68 Canadians, including four Manitobans who rest there. We were very pleased that Archbishop Gagnon chose to stay with us and lead the prayers at the gravesites of our fallen heroes. You will find these pictures on our MMF website.

I thank the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, including Archbishop Gagnon and Archbishop LeGatt, for providing spiritual guidance and leading our mass and prayers on this pilgrimage of faith and hope.

Again, there is so much more to share, and I can't wait to see our Citizens and share these stories with you all. Until we can gather again, I offer my prayers to all our Citizens, friends, and neighbours, and my deepest condolences to those who have been caused to grieve.

 


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