Former Okanese First Nation Chief Marie-Anne Day Walker-Pelletier is part of the Assembly of First Nations delegation to the Vatican for an audience with Pope Francis next week.

The AFN released its representatives Thursday, which also includes former National Chief Phil Fontaine and Truth and Reconciliation Commission Commissioner Wilton Littlechild.

The delegation is seeking to have the Pontiff come to Canada and formally apologize for the Catholic Church’s involvement in residential schools.

“They must be accountable and acknowledge their responsibility for the great harm caused by their direct role in the institution of assimilation and genocide that they ran,” said AFN NWT Regional Chief Gerald Antoine. “The Roman Catholic Church is the only one that hasn’t apologized. This is an important step. And so, what we are calling on the Holy Father to accept our invitation to come home to visit to apologize.”

In April 2009, Fontaine and an AFN delegation travelled to see Pope Benedict XIV, where he expressed sorrow, personal anguish and offered sympathy to those affected by residential school, but did not apologize.

The Metis Nation-Saskatchewan is sending three delegates of its own to meet with the Pope on April 1.

“It’s so hard for people to understand everything that happened at Île-à-la-Crosse school, not far from where so many of us live now. It’s important for our healing journey to make sure that the Church understands exactly what happened to us under its watch,” Elder Antoinette LaFleur, a member of the Survivors of the Île-á-la-Crosse Boarding School Steering Committee said.

The Ile a la Crosse Boarding School is one of the oldest known residential schools in Canada, but was denied compensation under the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement and is not recognized by the federal government. In 2019, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the MN-S and Ottawa to resolve the legacy of that residential school.

Elder Emilien Janvier, is hoping a prayer to the Pope in Dene will spur an apology. “Let’s make it right what was done to us. Let me go to bed without this on my mind. Let’s move on. We can learn from the mistakes and improve upon them. We talk about truth and reconciliation, who do you reconcile with without sorry,” Janvier asked.

MN-S Vice President Michelle LeClair will also accompany the delegation. The AFN will meet with the Pope on Thursday, while the Metis scheduled for Friday.