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Phil Fontaine named Manitoba delegate to meet with Pope Francis about residential schools



The former head of provincial and national First Nations groups will represent Manitoba First Nations in a meeting with the Pope in December to talk about the Catholic Church’s role in residential schools.

Phil Fontaine was named the Manitoba delegate for a meeting with Pope Francis by regional Chief Cindy Woodhouse of the Assembly of First Nations.

“Mr. Fontaine will participate in discussions regarding reconciliation with First Nations, … the role of the Catholic Church in the administration of the former Indian Residential Schools and the need for an official apology from the Pope on behalf of the Catholic Church,” Woodhouse said in a news released issued on Wednesday.

The meeting comes as Indigenous groups across Canada have begun searches for unmarked graves belonging to children who died at residential schools.

Fontaine served as Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and was elected three times to lead the national body, the Assembly of First Nations.

Phil Fontaine was presented with a citation by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, left, in the House of Commons on June 11, 2008, after Harper apologized for the federal government’s role in residential schools. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

A survivor of Fort Alexander Indian Residential School, he led the negotiations that resulted in the 2006 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.

The agreement included provisions for a common experience payment for survivors of residential schools, an independent assessment process for individual abuse claims and education funding, as well as the creation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.   

Fontaine was also presented with a citation by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2008 on the day he apologized for the federal government’s role in what some call genocidal institutions.

“Today is the result of the righteousness of our struggle,” Fontaine said at the time.

Indigenous leaders will be in Rome Dec. 17-20, and are scheduled to meet with the Pope during that time.  

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