Natan Obed does not celebrate his meeting with Pope Francis

The head of the national organization representing the Inuit says it will be no cause for celebration when he meets Pope Francis at the Vatican next week as part of an indigenous delegation.

Natan Obed has a specific item on his agenda: justice for the alleged victims of a Roman Catholic priest accused of crimes against children.

Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, wants the church to hold accountable an Oblate priest, Johannes Rivoire, who continues to live free despite multiple allegations of sexual abuse related to his time in Nunavut.

“He is still alive and has not faced any legal charges,” Obed said in a recent interview.

Rivoire was in Canada from the early 1960s until 1993, when he returned to France.

A warrant was issued for his arrest in 1998. He faced at least three charges of sexual abuse in the Nunavut communities of Arviat, Rankin Inlet and Naujaat. More than two decades later, the charges have been stayed.

Canada’s public prosecutor’s office said at the time that this was partly due to France’s reluctance to extradite.

Inuit leaders and politicians have continued to press for the priest, now 90, to stand trial. Those calls have grown even stronger with the discovery of unmarked graves at the sites of former Catholic Church-run boarding schools, Obed said.

“We want to hear directly from the church and the pope about their commitment to hold accountable anyone associated with the church who has committed crimes, especially against children,” he said.

Obed said he did not intend to ponder difficult issues when he meets the pope.

“This is an opportunity to seek justice.”

Obed said the other Inuit delegates are community members and some are Catholic. They will share their stories and their connection to the church.

Approximately 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children were forced to attend residential schools. More than 60% of schools were run by the Catholic Church.

Residential schools in the Far North were different from those in southern Canada, but the institutions were the source of similar intergenerational trauma long after they closed.

Mission schools, run by Catholic and other churches, were prominent until around 1950. These schools were also notorious for abuse, disease, and even death. Federally run institutions were established as day schools and hostels rather than the boarding schools more common in the South.

Children were often taken away from their communities, breaking ties with family and traditional ways of life. Some children would not see their families for years.

“It can take a month or weeks to get from your school to your home,” Obed said.

Some children were sent to boarding schools in Alberta or Manitoba, where no native teachers or other students spoke their language.

The northern schools were part of a larger plan to forcibly displace Inuit, Obed said. After World War II, the federal government began moving many Inuit families to inhospitable parts of the Arctic in an effort to assert sovereignty over the region.

Many people died during this period. Sled dogs were killed. The Inuit way of life was radically changed at home and at school.

In 1964, 75% of Inuit children and youth aged 6 to 15 were enrolled in schools.

Reports revealed that there was an emphasis in the classrooms on Western culture, overzealous discipline and the Catholic faith.

“In a culture where the role of family and connection to the land are so important, it’s easy to see why these students felt such a sense of detachment and loss,” Northern attorney Katherine Peterson wrote in a 1994 report on a school in Nunavut. and inn.

There was also physical and sexual abuse.

The largest investigation ever undertaken by the RCMP in the North involved Grollier Hall Home and Schools in Inuvik, Northwest Territories. It led to more than 80 charges against numerous people, including some associated with the church.

Martin Houston, who was a ward supervisor, was later ordained a priest despite his conviction for sex crimes. He lived in a residence for Catholic priests in Manitoba until his death in 2010.

Obed said he will tell Pope Francis that Inuit expect any further investigations that reveal wrongdoing by church members to put justice for victims first.

“That’s what’s on the minds of many Inuit,” he said.

He also wants the Catholic Church to help identify children in unmarked graves and to assume its moral responsibility for monetary restitution. Canadian bishops pledged last year to raise $30 million over five years for reconciliation efforts.

Obed said he would also share the expectation that the Pope apologize for the Church’s role in residential schools in Canada.

“This is a session that is about facilitating action.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on March 26, 2022.

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