A retired chief from the Okanese First Nation is one many delegates across Canada who will be meeting with Pope Francis.

Marie-Anne Day Walker-Pelletier is among 13 First Nation delegates representing Indigenous Peoples from coast to coast. She has been prepping for this day for months.

The trip was originally planned for December 2021 but the rise of the Omicron COVID-19 variant halted the trip.

The halt gave the retired chief some extra time to think of what she hopes she truly hopes to achieve during his visit with the Vatican.

“My purpose (is) as a (representative) for Saskatchewan survivors and what I would hope to achieve is to convince the Pope to come to Canada to visit and provide his apology to the survivors,” said Day Walker-Pelletier.

“Whether he comes to different sites in Canada … my job is to provide as much information and convincing that he needs to come to apologize and say that he is sorry and we need to hear that from him.”

Day Walker-Pelletier will represent all residential school survivors in Saskatchewan when meeting with the Pope in Rome. She has been meeting with survivors virtually along with Indigenous leaders in the province to help her form her speech.

“Part of (my) presentation is to speak about the unmarked graves and to talk to him about the number of unmarked graves that have been found,” she said. “And to ask him to reinforce his apology … for these children and to me, that’s so emotional because the children are the ones that never made it.”

Day Walker-Pelletier will be accompanied by the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) vice-chief David Pratt, Erica Beaudin and Eleanor Sunchild, who is involved with residential school survivors litigations.

They leave over the March 25, 2022, weekend to Rome while the other delegates across the country leave at various times.

The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) formed the delegation of First Nations survivors and leadership and will gather with the head of the Catholic church March 31, 2022. AFN stated in a media release that the gathering will include separate meetings with Inuit and Métis delegates and a cultural presentation.

“Meeting with Pope Francis is an important step as we continue to address the Catholic Church’s culpability about genocide and complicity in what many First Nations children experienced in the institutions,” stated the AFN delegation lead, Gerald Antoine, who is the Northwest Territories (NWT) Regional Chief.

“It was responsible for managing, including in many instances, the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual violence inflicted on our children.”

The AFN delegation to the Vatican starts on March 28, 2022 and continues to April 1, when there will be survivors of residential institutions of assimilation and genocide and two youth representatives.

The date of the papal visit has not yet been announced.

The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419) is available 24 hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience.

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