After initial confusion, the Assembly of First Nations has confirmed an Indigenous delegation planning to visit the Vatican City this month will postpone its trip.
In a statement, AFN said the decision came “after careful assessment of the uncertainty and potential health risks surrounding international travel amid the recent spread of the Omicron variant.”
The trip will be rescheduled to “the earliest opportunity in 2022,” Tuesday’s statement read.
The Canadian Press had reported earlier on Tuesday that Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald told chiefs the Omicron variant of the coronavirus responsible for Covid-19 had forced postponement of the trip.
But the CBC later reported Archibald had spoken prematurely, ahead of a meeting that would determine whether the trip could go ahead.
Confirmation of the postponement came at around 3pm on Tuesday on AFN’s website.
“The decision to postpone was a heartbreaking one, made after careful consultation with delegates, family members, community leaders, public health officials, and the leadership of each of the three National Indigenous Organizations,” a statement on that website read.
“Particularly for many elderly delegates as well as those who live in remote communities, the risk of infection and the fluid nature of the evolving global situation presents too great a threat at this time.
“We take comfort in the desire, conveyed to us by the Holy See, that the safety of the delegation should inform any decision to move forward. It is also important to note that the delegation is postponed, not cancelled.”
Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya is due to lead the delegation. Yakeleya intends to seek an apology from the Pope for the Roman Catholic Church’s decades-long role in running Canada’s residential schools, to which many Indigenous children were forcibly removed.
The Pope has announced plans to visit Canada in the near future. Yakeleya hopes an apology will come on Canadian soil at a venue to be determined.
Speaking in October as the trip was being planned, Yakeleya acknowledged there was risk associated with travel through major centres to the Vatican City during the Covid-19 pandemic.
He said the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops was assisting with arrangements to ensure the trip could be made safely.
“It’s very fluid. We have to be very adaptable,” he said at the time.
“We have strong faith that it will come to fruition.”
Yakeleya’s eight-person delegation is set to include Manitoba Regional Chief Cindy Woodhouse, Chief Wilton Littlechild, Kukpi7 Chief Rosanne Casimir, spiritual advisor Fred Kelly, knowledge keeper Phil Fontaine, and youth representatives Rosalie LaBillois and Taylor Tsakoza-Behn.