On Monday, July 25, for the first public event of his apostolic journey to Canada, Pope Francis travelled to Maskwacis, Alberta, about 70 kilometres south of Edmonton. From 1894 to 1973, it was the site of the Ermineskin Residential School, one of the largest residential schools in Canada. The school was run by two Catholic orders: the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and the Sisters of the Assumption.
After visiting the parish church of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows, where he greeted First Nations, Métis, and Inuit elders and visited the cemetery for a moment of prayer, the Holy Father continued to the powow grounds at Bear Park, where he was joined by a delegation of Indigenous leaders from across Canada.
The following words of welcome were offered by Chief Wilton Littlechild, member of the Ermineskin Cree Nation, residential school survivor, former Grand Chief of The Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations, and former Commissioner for Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission:
Welcome address by Chief Wilton Littlechild
Meeting with Indigenous Peoples: First Nations, Métis, and Inuit
Monday, 25 July 2022
, White Eagle,
It is a great honour to welcome you among us. You have travelled a long way to be with us on our land, and to walk with us on the path of reconciliation. For this we honour you and extend to you our most heartfelt welcome. We wish to acknowledge with deep appreciation and gratitude the great personal effort you have made to travel to our land. It is a blessing to receive and host you among us.
The vast expanse of land called Canada, and which the Indigenous Peoples refer to as part of Turtle Island, is the traditional homeland for the First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Peoples. Here in Maskwacis we are on Treaty Six land, the ancestral territory of the Cree, Dene, Blackfoot, Saulteaux and Nakota Sioux peoples since time immemorial.
My name in Cree is Mahihgan Pimoteyw
: “Wolf Walker”, Usow-Kihew
: “Golden Eagle”. In English I am known as Wilton Littlechild. I was a student here at the Ermineskin residential school, which, for your visit among us this day, represents all the residential schools of our country. Gathered here this morning with the people of Maskwacis are residential school survivors, Chiefs, leaders, elders, knowledge keepers and youth from First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities across our land. We feel particularly honoured to welcome as well the Governor General of Canada, Her Excellency Mary Simon, and the Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Justin Trudeau.
As a former Commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, I have heard nearly 7000 testimonies from former students of residential schools in this country. During the recent visit to your home at the Vatican by a delegation of Indigenous survivors, elders, knowledge keepers, and youth, you also heard of the abuses so many of our people have suffered at this and other residential schools. During our time with you, it was clear to us all that you listened deeply and with great compassion to the testimonies that told of the way our languages were suppressed, our culture taken from us, and our spirituality denigrated. You have heard the devastation that followed from the way our families were torn apart. The words you spoke to us in response clearly came from the depths of your heart, and were for those who heard them a source of deep comfort and great encouragement. On that occasion you expressed your intention to visit with us on our land and in this way express your strong desire to be close to us.
And now, Your Holiness, you have come to our land in response to our invitation, and as you promised. You have said that you have come as a pilgrim, seeking to walk together with us on the pathway of truth, justice, healing, reconciliation, and hope. We gladly welcome you to join us on this journey. As you acknowledged in your address to us in Rome, we Indigenous Peoples strive always to consider the impact of present events and deliberations on future generations. In that spirit, we sincerely hope that our encounter this morning, and the words you share with us, will echo with true healing and real hope throughout many generations to come.
, Your Holiness. Tawaw
. Welcome to our land.
Text courtesy of the Holy See Press Office