The last time the Crees went to see the Pope it was back in 1983 and then Grand Chief Billy Diamond caused quite a stir.
Canadian diplomats were running around trying to stop the visit because the Pope of the Catholic Church only met with heads of state and this implied that the Crees were seen as a state unto themselves and distinct from Canada.
In contrast, this latest visit 16 years later didn’t see the same types of actions by the Canadian government. It was just the opposite with a warm reception at the Canadian Embassy with the Deputy Ambassador hosting a gala over five hours long.
The message Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come carried on behalf of the Crees, though, was not one that the Canadian government liked.
Coon Come asked the Pope to once again add his voice to support Cree efforts in the United Nations to set human-rights standards for the protection of rights of the world’s indigenous peoples.
Coon Come asked the Pope to question Canada’s politicians about the homeless and the urgent need for shelter for Aboriginal peoples in Canada. The Grand Chief cited this as a problem that leads people to commit desperate acts. This is a problem that Canada refuses to address, he said.
In his address before the Pope, Coon Come said even though Canada is a G-7 country and one of the most wealthy in the world, First Nations do not benefit.
“Although we are the original owners of the land, the Aboriginal peoples of Canada are now the poorest part of society,” he said.
The United Nations on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has called on Canada to “take concrete and urgent steps to ensure respect for Aboriginal economic land and resource based rights to achieve sustainable Aboriginal economies and cultures” – a fact Coon Come pointed out to the Pontiff.
He ended the visit praising the Pope for his past work on behalf of all peoples. Coon Come said the Pope has “called upon the world to correct past wrongs against our peoples through actions taken today,” by meeting with the Crees.