Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 29, 2008
Fontaine offers olive branch to bishops
National chief wants Church to play key role in building reconciliation with First Nations
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
“For our people, reconciliation means the eradication of First Nations poverty.”
First Nations people did not need the Catholic Church for her money, but for her influence, her experience and her commitment, he said.
“You understand us as well as anyone in this country,” he said, noting the Church knows “what is important to us and where we want to take our communities.”
“There are too many who don’t believe in us, who see us as a relic of the past, who believe we have to be transformed in order to be significant to this country,” he said. “We know that you don’t believe that.”
“My words in the past have hurt deeply,” he said, pointing to those within the Church who “have been involved for so long” in working with First Nations peoples.
“I stand here committed to working with you in rebuilding the historic relationship that brought so much good to so many people,” he said.
“Sadly the experience of many was not good,” he said. “I want to focus on what was good and learn from that success in our collective experience.”
Fontaine spoke about a recent visit to the Cherokee Nation in the United States and the positive experience they have had with boarding schools.
“I see no reason why the Catholic Church shouldn’t be involved in the education of our people,” he said.
In a news conference afterwards, Fontaine was asked whether the Catholic Church should apologize for the abuse in residential schools. He said the prime minister “was speaking on behalf of all Canadians.”
“Our big challenge is reconciliation,” he said. “We will never achieve reconciliation until poverty is eradicated.”
First Nations peoples, he said, had noted Pope Benedict’s expressions of regret to aboriginal peoples in the United States last April and to those in Australia while in Sydney last July.
Fontaine said he hoped the pope would make a similar gesture towards Canada’s First Nations peoples.
CCCB President Winnipeg Archbishop James Weisgerber said he looked forward to working with the First Nations in creating “a new community where everyone is respected.”
He noted the importance of the upcoming Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that will start its work soon.
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