Closing Statement to Pope Francis

First Nations Delegation private audience with Pope Francis. Vatican City March 31, 2022. Left to Right: Michelle Schenandoah, Oneida Nation of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy; Inuit Elder (Inuit Delegation); Adeline Webber, Kukhhiittan Clan of the Teslin Tlingit Nation; John Bekale, Dene Nation; Phil Fontaine, Sagkeeng First Nation; Kukpi7 Chief Rosanne Casimir, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation; Pope Francis; Dr. Wilton Littlechild, Ermineskin Cree Nation; Phyllis Googoo, Waycobah First Nation; Regional Chief Gerald Antoine, Dene Nation; Rosalie LaBillois, Eel River Bar First Nation; Chief Marie-Anne Day Walker-Pelletier, Okanese First Nation; Marlene Cloud, Chippewas of Kettle & Stony Point First Nation; Taylor Behn-Tsakoza, Fort Nelson First Nation; Grand Chief Mandy Gull-Masty, Grand Chief of the Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee; Fred Kelly, Ojibways of Onigaming First Nation; (delegate not present: Marlene Thomas, Lennox Island First Nation) Photo provided courtesy of the Vatican.

On March 31, 2022 Kaluhyanu:wes Michelle Schenandoah (Onʌyota’:aka, Wolf Clan) was the last delegate to speak to the Pope Francis during a private audience for the First Nations Delegation at the Vatican. Throughout the week, Schenandoah served as the female spiritual advisor to the Delegation along with Katsitsionni Fox. Schenanodah wrote this speech as a reflection of the truths, prayers and intentions of Haudenosaunee and Indigenous peoples across Mother Earth.

“You have heard the voices of our people this week. We are living peoples, human beings with souls. We come in the footsteps of our ancestors, elders and leaders, and many who still request an audience from you. 

All those you have heard this week represent only the smallest numbers of Indigenous peoples impacted by the Papal Bulls that make up the Doctrine of Discovery, which has given settler nation states an illegitimate assumption of authority over our people and land for over 500 hundreds years. 

The Doctrine of Discovery led to the continual taking of our babies to this day, the disappearance of thousands of our women who have gone missing or murdered. Women who would have been mothers, sisters, aunties, grandmothers, community members, the backbone of our nations. It allows the settler colonial states to take our babies and leave them vulnerable to societal ills that create broken families. It has led to the displacement of our men into broken states and prison states, separated from the ability to be fathers and healthy individuals. And it has led to the dispossession of our lands. 

It has deprived us of our dignity, our freedom and led to the exploitation of our Mother Earth, from which she now pushes back against humanity to listen, while she cleanses herself from the harms we humans have done to her. 

These Papal Bulls that make up the Doctrine of Discovery also opened the door to slavery in the western world, and stole the lives and dignity of our African brothers and sisters. 

It has given the right for all peoples of the world to view Indigenous peoples as dispensable, while violently taking our Mother Earth for personal and institutional riches, for which our precious metals (from the Americas) adorn these halls. 

The Doctrine of Discovery has enslaved the entire world since 1493 to today,

to view us

to treat us 

to take from us

to murder and rape us 

and to destroy our culture 

to decimate and invisibilize us 

It’s been a long genocide across all of Turtle Island that has been legalized under these Papal Bulls. 

Laws held up by the Doctrine of Discovery that are discriminatory, and exploitative acts that destroy people, families, children and Mother Earth are deemed legal to this day. 

Laws create policies, policies shape education and education shapes behavior, and how people around the world have come to treat us and see us. 

Among my generation, I was born in a year when it was illegal to practice our spiritual and traditional way of life. In my generation, I was born when the United Nations only referred to my people as flora and fauna. 

Our Indigenous peoples according to the Doctrine of Discovery are without souls.

The world has responded and acted accordingly to the precepts that Indigenous peoples, as non-Christians, do not have souls and therefore have no right to our bodies, our children, our lands, our governments or our futures.

 As people, under our own ways of life, governance and existence, do have souls, and together we are all human beings. 

You have the responsibility to forever turn the hand of fate toward peace. Toward a future all families around the world dream about for their children, for each other, and for the world they live in. 

This, here, is called a cradleboard and it used to carry our children in. We can even hang the board on a high place so our children are eye level with us and feel equal and included. 

I am leaving this board with you overnight. This is a symbol of every Indigenous child who went to a residential boarding school across Turtle Island. Those who survived and those who did not. 

In our way, when making decisions, we often sleep on the issue at hand. 

How you treat this cradleboard tonight will be how you come to treat our people in the future. 

When the sun rises, I ask for their spirits to be rematriated, restored to a high place of sacredness, because you will have decided to make things right.

I am sent to you by one of our traditional Clan Mothers of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, where laws of peace have prevailed for over 1,000 years, where our democracy was given to the world, and where our rights of women were also given to the world. 

As Indigenous peoples, we have gifts to offer the world once again, to bring balance in living with Mother Earth, and peacemaking processes and to live with each other as human kind. You only need only to open the door and your heart for all of the world to hear us, by revoking the Papal Bulls that contain the Doctrine of Discovery. 

Today, we come to you to implore you to release the world from its place of enslavement that consciously and unconsciously grips every soul on this planet by these insidious Papal Bulls. 

This cradleboard is the symbol of our collective future. We ask that you make it right, so the world may truly move forward in peace and make it right with Indigenous peoples and restore dignity toward our peoples, so that all our souls may be at peace with each other. 

Tomorrow we will reconvene one more time. I will retrieve this cradleboard to bring home to Turtle Island, symbolic of bringing our children back home to us. 

Yaw^ko, a grand thank you for hearing our words today. 

We have come a long way carrying many prayers. I ask for all of Creation and the maker of our beings, who we call the Great Creator to be with us. Let us sleep on these matters, and make them right. We give great thanks for each other, for all of life and for this time together. 


Kaluhyanu:wes Michelle Schenandoah (Onʌyota’:aka,  Wolf Clan) at the Vatican carrying an empty cradleboard on her back.