Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Kúkpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir said she is disappointed Pope Francis will not be in Tk’emlúps when he visits Canada in July, but she hasn’t given up hope the pontiff may reconsider.
The pope is visiting Canada as part of a bid for reconciliation over the Catholic Church’s role in running residential schools. Pope Francis will spend a week in Canada between July 24 and 30 in Edmonton, Quebec City and Iqaluit, with the 85-year-old’s mobility issues, Canada’s vastness and the trip’s limited timeline noted as reasons for keeping the trip to those three cities, according to Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB).
Tk’emlúps was left of the list of stops, despite Casimir hand-delivering to the pope an invitation to visit her community during her meeting with the pontiff in March in the Vatican City.
“The pope is coming to Canada — that is truly historical in itself,” Casimir told reporters on Friday (may 13). “My hope is that he does have the opportunity to come to British Columbia and he takes that time. I haven’t ruled anything out as of yet and I’m going to hold on to a bit of hope, but he does have some limitations in his mobility.”
Casimir said his mobility issues would be taken into consideration if the pope does end up visiting Tk’emlúps after all, noting the area is a hub for highways and the Kamloops Airport is not far from the reserve. If Pope Francis could not attend the band’s Powwow Arbour, organizers could look into appropriate, alternative venues in Kamloops to accommodate the pope and large crowds, Casimir said, noting it’s important he meet with all those impacted by the Kamloops Indian Residential School.
“While we understand the vastness of Canada and the need to make the trip manageable for him, it is really unfortunate he will not have the opportunity to come to the former Kamloops Indian Residential School — the largest residential school in the country run by the Roman Catholic Church,” Casimir said.
In May 2021, the Tk’emlúps band announced that a ground-penetrating radar survey of grounds near the former school revealed signs of 200 probable graves. Excavation of the site to confirm there are human remains there has not yet been done.
Following that announcement, other bands in Canada announced findings of probable graves at former residential school sites.
“This I do see as a missed opportunity to visit Tk’emlúps — ground zero — and hear directly from survivors and intergenerational survivors and offer more words of apology, retribution and reconciliation,” Casimir said.
Asked if the band plans to send a delegation to one of the cities the pope will visit, Casimir didn’t specify. She did, however, say she hopes that if the pope doesn’t visit B.C. in person, he will reach out to every First Nation with people impacted by the Kamloops Indian Residential School “to come and bear witness his journey to Alberta and that, somehow, some way, they would also be able to participate.”
As for whether there may be a future opportunity to visit Tk’emlúps, Casimir said she would love that opportunity at any time.
She said the decision not to take up the Tk’emlúps invitation or come to B.C. and visit communities in this province where signs of probable graves have been found has brought about shared sentiments of disappointment from herself and other community members.
“He hasn’t acknowledged invitations to come and meet with us and walk on those meaningful steps moving forward,” Casimir said. “I hope he has the final say on what his visitation to Canada will be.”