By Rob Houle, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – It has been just over one year since His Holiness embarked on a penitential pilgrimage to select Indigenous communities in Canada. The polarising six day visit fulfilled a commitment by Pope Francis, and was predicated by a request by the Indigenous Delegation in Vatican City. This delegation included representative First Nation Chiefs, Metis leaders, Inuit leadership and the Canadian Catholic Church. To many, the Vatican visit served as a re-ignition of reconciliation conversations between the Church and Indigenous people. To some, it was met with scrutiny and questions around accountability, transparency and purpose.
One year later, questions around action and transparency linger. Recently, the Confederacy of Treaty no. 6 First Nations issued a release calling for a “stronger response from the Church” with Chief Tony Alexis stating that Canadian leadership “needs to catch up.” Chief George Arcand Jr. also spoke critically of the lack of action to date, and openly questioned why First Nation leaders are being left off the “decision-making table.” The Chiefs closed out the release by thanking His Holiness for committing to travelling to their communities and apologizing for the harms created by the Church.
With a call to increase their response, it is important to note some action on the part of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB). Following their initial announcement of a $30 million pledge in September 2021, resulting from questions regarding their contribution to the Indian Residential School Settlement, the CCCB established an Indigenous Reconciliation Fund (IRF). To date, this latest fundraising effort by the Church has raised one-third of its goal, with the current amount reported as just over $11 million. However, attaining more information regarding those figures is proving difficult.
In a June 2023 CBC article, inquiries proved fruitless in terms of gathering additional information. When media inquired as to where the funds from the IRF were flowing, and which grants were approved, parties involved pointed in different directions. The Chair of the IRF, Rosella Kinoshameg, stated that the financials on grants and contributions were held by “another Church accountant.” Upon reviewing their online presence, the IRF provides only high level information with any inquiry being directed to their administrative email. There has yet to be released any annual report on the fund or public statement on which projects have been funded.
Additionally, following the papal visit, questions were raised regarding the overall price tag for the apology. Numerous reports have estimated the cost of the visit to be in a range between $50 and $70 million, with the Canadian Catholic Church carrying at least $18 million and the Government of Canada carrying much of the remainder. With a lack of action to date, a snailing fundraising campaign, the exclusion of Chiefs from decision making tables and costs which may have been better served elsewhere, it is important to reflect on the Papal Visit and determine the true benefactors.