By Ian Bailey
The Canadian Press
VANCOUVER – The Assembly of First Nations says it has elected 13 delegates to meet Pope Francis in Vatican City next week.
The organization said the delegates, who represent First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities across Canada, will take part in the landmark first-ever meeting of a Canadian First Nations delegation to the Vatican.
Alberta will be represented by Randy Palcic, the organization’s longtime spokesman.
Palcic said representatives of the assembly will be meeting with the pontiff in connection with World Indigenous Peoples Day on 15 September, the day it was established 25 years ago.
Representatives will meet Pope Francis on his airplane from Rome to Brussels for the World Meeting of Families.
The assembly’s chief, Perry Bellegarde, said in a statement released by the group on Saturday that he is looking forward to meeting with the Pope and hopefully bring the message of reconciliation to his ears.
“This is an extraordinary opportunity to engage with the Supreme Being,” Bellegarde said. “We are certainly excited about the opportunity, but as a First Nation, we have to be prudent and make sure we leave the Vatican with solid plans for follow-up in our local communities, our nations and across Canada.”
Palcic, who lives in Neskantaga First Nation, in southwestern Ontario, said the Catholic Church has traditionally been important to the First Nations people.
“We’d like to present that, at least in terms of reconciliation, that there have been a lot of people of faith who’ve worked with us, who’ve been with us, who’ve actually helped to keep our land,” he said in a telephone interview from Alberta.
“I think the issue here is reconciliation. The fact is that racism, as a Catholic and as a First Nation, no matter where you go, there is still that, unfortunately, in Canada today, whether you’re Catholic or whether you’re a First Nation, you still have to deal with racism in Canada.”
Palcic said he expects to be in the company of representatives from across Canada and Africa.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with Pope Francis when the pontiff visited Rome last October. Trudeau was accompanied by spiritual advisor Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who is retired archbishop of Quebec City.
Parliament also recognized the Day of World Indigenous Peoples on Sept. 16, 2015. The day came 25 years after the council of the Vatican formally recognized the relationship between Christianity and indigenous peoples.