AFN National Chief and Catholic Bishops hold historic meeting on Indian Residential Schools healing and reconciliation



    OTTAWA, Jan. 29 /CNW Telbec/ - Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National
Chief Phil Fontaine met today for the first time with a group of Catholic
bishops to discuss ongoing efforts toward healing and reconciliation with
First Nations as part of the Indian Residential Schools experience.
    The meeting, held in Ottawa, is the latest in a series initiated by
National Chief Fontaine. In May 2004, he first met with a group of women
religious leaders in Winnipeg to foster dialogue on healing and reconciliation
with Catholic religious entities that were involved with Indian Residential
Schools (IRS). Over the last two years, the National Chief has also met with
Catholic women and men religious members and their leaders in Montreal and
St-Hyacinthe, Quebec, Winnipeg, Manitoba, and Edmonton, Alberta.
    National Chief Fontaine appreciated the opportunity to meet today with
the bishops.
    "I recognize that thousands of Catholic men and women religious members
worked during the Indian Residential Schools era in what they sincerely
believed to be in the best interest of Indian Residential School students.
However, it is important for these religious entities to both openly
acknowledge their role in Indian Residential Schools and to hear directly from
First Nations regarding their experiences. The assistance and participation of
the Catholic entities are integral in the healing and reconciliation process."
    "We view the Catholic entities as allies in the challenging healing
process that Indian Residential School survivors and their families are going
through. We want to continue working together at the local community level
with individual Catholic religious members. The close cooperation of all
stakeholders is crucial to the success of the implementation of the Indian
Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission."
    As a participant in the meeting, The Most Reverend Sylvain Lavoie, OMI,
Archbishop of Keewatin-Le Pas, said "we are grateful for the support and
cooperation of First Nations leaders, such as AFN National Chief Fontaine. We
have always seen this healing and reconciliation process as an essential part
of our relationship with Catholic and non-Catholic Aboriginal communities and
expect this relationship to evolve as we, together, move beyond the legacy of
the flawed IRS system."
    Archbishop Lavoie mentioned current activities in his diocese include
three IRS healing programs in collaboration with First Nations communities in
Manitoba and Saskatchewan. He said they are also asking new priests coming to
the diocese to learn Dene, Cree and Oji-Cree as a way of supporting the
culture and the language.
    He indicated efforts to repair and restore their relationship with First
Nations started decades before a formal agreement was reached in 2006 between
the 50 Catholic entities and the federal government, and that a large number
of initiatives by Catholics have taken place throughout Canadian dioceses,
even during the long judicial proceedings and negotiations over the last five
years.
    Archbishop Lavoie expressed appreciation for the active role taken by AFN
National Chief Fontaine in the negotiation process leading to the Settlement
Agreement with the federal government regarding Indian Residential School
claims and class-action suits.

    The Assembly of First Nations is the national organization representing
First Nations citizens in Canada.




For further information:

For further information: Media contact: Nancy Pine, Communications
Advisor, Office of the National Chief, Assembly of First Nations, (613)
241-6789 x243, (613) 298-6382 cell, npine@afn.ca; Joan McEwen, AFN
Communications Director, Assembly of First Nations, (613) 241-6789 ext. 242,
cell (613) 324-3329, jmcewen@afn.ca; Jean-Paul Brasseur, Media Contact,
Catholic Bishop Participants, (613) 830-4766, jp.brasseur@sympatico.ca


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