The Yukon will be represented at a meeting between Canadian First Nations delegates and Pope Francis at the Vatican next month.
The Yukon representative will be Adeline Webber, a member of the Kukhhiittan Clan of the Teslin Tlingit Nation, who has already done plenty to advance an understanding of the harms caused by the residential school system and the cause of reconciliation.
The delegation of 13 First Nations leaders bound for Rome in December is being organized by the Assembly of First Nations (AFN).
“Our gathering in December is the next step in completing TRC Call to Action #58,” said Northwest Territories AFN Regional Chief Norman Yakeleya in a statement.
“And while the apology from His Holiness is so important, it’s also important to think about what happens in a post-apology world. That’s part of the reason we’re honoured to have two youth delegates. This gathering is an opportunity to shape the future for our children and their children.”
Webber said it was a total surprise, but humbling and an honour, when AFN regional chief Kluane Adamek called to offer her the spot on the journey to the Vatican. She said she had been recommended by a committee of Yukon chiefs.
Webber is a residential school survivor herself, having attended the Baptist Whitehorse Indian Mission School in Whitehorse. She chairs a working group researching the former Chooutla Residential School history and examining the grounds in Carcross. Searches at the sites of other residential schools in Canada have yielded thousands of unmarked and undocumented graves of children who attended the schools.
She has also been involved in work surrounding the Whitehorse Indian Mission School including a reunion for survivors, a monument at the end of Main Street in Whitehorse and the creation of a book (Finding Our Faces) on the school that is now used in school curriculums.
Ahead of the AFN delegation’s trip to the Vatican, Webber says she has been participating in weekly meetings with the other delegates for the past month to ensure their message to the head of the Catholic Church is clear. Although time before the delegation’s Dec. 14 departure for the Vatican is short, Webber said everyone involved understands what an opportunity this is to make the Pope aware of the issues that are important to them.
Webber said the Pope needs to acknowledge, on behalf of the church, the wrongs that were done by the residential schools that it operated and come to Canada to make an apology.
In late October Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops announced that the Pope accepted their invitation to come to Canada for “a pilgrimage of healing and reconciliation.” The date of the visit has not been made public.
Webber said the church and its leader must also be aware of the importance of the First Nations languages that were nearly wiped out by the residential school system. She said the church must also release documents they hold about the schools that will be important to offer closure to families. Finally, she said the church should also compensate families that were harmed and continue to be harmed by the lingering effects of children’s treatment at the schools.
“I’m looking forward to having an opportunity to be involved and bring the message from the Yukon and from Canada about the importance of reconciliation and the continued healing of our people across Canada and wherever they are in the world,” Webber said.
The meeting with Pope Francis will be on Dec. 20.
Webber said she already knows some of her fellow delegates for the meeting from her previous work with the AFN nationally. The AFN delegation will join those representing the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Métis National Council.
Contact Jim Elliot at firstname.lastname@example.org