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Pope's visit excludes B.C.; Indigenous chiefs express 'profound sense of disappointment'

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Leaders of British Columbia's First Nations say they're disappointed in the Pope's itinerary for an upcoming visit to Canada.

Pope Francis will be making stops in Alberta, Quebec and Nunavut during a trip to the country in late July. Noticeably absent from the Vatican-released travel plans, say some critics, is a stop in B.C.

“Absolutely shocked and deeply disappointed to hear today that the Pope will not visit British Columbia during his historic visit to Canada,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, the president of Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs (UBCIC).

“Come to Kamloops. Do the right thing. It would represent a historic moment in the egregious violation of the human rights of Indigenous children here in British Columbia,” he continued.

The disappointed is felt by Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk'emlups te Secwepemc First Nation, who made the trek to the Vatican last month, inviting the Pope to Kamloops.

"[It’s] truly disappointing that he hasn't acknowledged invitations to come and meet with us,” she said.

The visit follows an apology from The Holy See for the conduct of church members involved in Canada's residential school system, much of which was operated by the Catholic Church.

Many expected the Pope to make a stop in B.C. He's been invited by local first nations, and the province is home to what was Canada's largest residential school.

Preliminary discoveries made on the grounds of the Kamloops Indian Residential School prompted searches by ground-penetrating radar of many more sites in Canada, as researchers look to uncover the truth about what happened at the schools.

Hundreds of possible unmarked graves have been found at these schools, starting with the search in Kamloops.

But for now, it seems, the Pope is only planning to stop in Edmonton, Quebec City and Iqaluit, something local leaders say is a let down, given an invite to visit the school in Kamloops.

"My hope is that there is consideration that is given for meeting with first nations directly on first nations land,” said Chief Casimir.

The UBCIC said it will continue to put pressure on the Vatican and the government to add Kamloops to the list of stops.

"We urge a reconsideration of the itinerary and the addition of another stop on this important trip,” it said in a statement Friday.

The UBCIC said the invitation to the Pope from the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc nation was supported by it and "all First Nations peoples, and non-Indigenous peoples."

The BC Assembly of First Nations is also calling on the Pope to revise his plans to include a visit to Tk’emlúps territory.

"This egregious oversight must be rectified immediately," said Regional Chief Terry Teegee in a Friday statement.

 If you are a former residential school student in distress, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419, or the Indian Residential School Survivors Society toll free line at 1-800-721-0066.

Additional mental-health support and resources for Indigenous people are available here.

With files from CTV News Vancouver's Tahmina Aziz

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