In a powerful reminder of why the meetings between Pope Francis and Indigenous delegations took place this week, delegates from the Assembly of First Nations on Friday gave Francis several gifts including a white leather stole beaded with orange crosses.
Orange has become synonymous with residential schools in Canada, after author Phyllis Webstad wrote about her experience having an orange shirt taken from her on her first day of residential school.
Canada forced more than 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children to attend residential schools between the 1880s and 1997, a policy the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called “cultural genocide.” Francis apologized Friday for the conduct of some members of the Catholic Church at those schools.
The stole, a garment priests wear over their shoulders, was crafted by Therese Dettanikkeaze from the Northlands Denesuline Nation in Manitoba, according to a document provided to media by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Delegates also gave Francis a pair of snowshoes, made out of black ash with both Caribou and artificial sinew, by Sanders Weistche, an elder from the Cree community of Waskaganish, Que.
Cassidy Caron, president of the Métis National Council, gave the Pope a memory book. The book includes stories from Métis survivors of residential schools and a personal letter from Cassidy.
The Inuit delegation presented the Pope with a cross and sealskin pouch.
The cross was made with baleen from a bowhead whale, riveted to sterling silver with 18-karat gold. Baleen has a deep connection to Inuit culture, according to a document provided to the media because the harvest from a single bowhead whale could feed an entire community for months, and provide income for Inuit artists. It is a flexible material that is often used in art and jewellery.
The pouch was made with sealskin and ivory. Sealskin is naturally waterproof and biodegradable. Seals have a wide range of uses for Inuit, providing food, warm clothing and materials for art. Ivory has also been used by Inuit for centuries, as it’s a sturdy material suitable for making tools and carvings.
At the end of their final meeting, Francis also gave gifts to the delegates. One member of each delegation received a bronze olive branch.
The symbol of the olive branch “is important to all people that believe in peace and harmony,” former Assembly of First Nations national chief Phil Fontaine said after the meeting. “And we certainly do.”