FORT NELSON, B.C. – Taylor Behn-Tsakoza of the Fort Nelson First Nation will be among 13 delegates travelling to Vatican City next week to discuss reconciliation with Pope Francis.

“I’m feeling a little nervous, getting to speak with the pope is a big deal,” Behn-Tsakoza, youth co-chair for the BC Assembly of First Nations, said ahead of her trip. “Being the youth representative in the delegation is a big responsibility. I think everything that I’ve done to date has prepared me in some ways.”

Behn-Tsakoza is of Eh Cho Dene and Dunne Zaa ancestry. She holds a bachelor’s degree in health and physical education, and has taken her education abroad to Australia and Hawaii for international Indigenous studies.

She says it’s not uncommon to hear from many indigenous people who survived Canada’s residential school system to feel torn over reconciliation — outright rejecting the Christianity imposed by the Catholic Church, while others found solace in the faith despite the harms done by the system.

“Some of our community have asked to have rosaries blessed and still follow the Catholic Church,” said Behn-Tsakoza. “It’s been a juggle to balance that experience and point of view, to compare it to other survivors who don’t follow that religion and have a different opinion on the church.”

“When some people left residential school, they really found a different way of life in that religion, and other people abandoned it altogether, and went back to our traditional spiritual ways.”

The delegation was originally scheduled to meet with the pope in December, however, plans were postponed due to COVID-19.

According to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, the pope will meet with individual Indigenous delegations the week of March 28th. A final audience with all participants will take place Friday, April 1st.

“We remain committed to walking toward healing and reconciliation and very much look forward to the opportunity for Indigenous Elders, knowledge keepers, residential school survivors, and youth to meet with Pope Francis,” the organization said in a statement.

Behn-Tsakoza says she doesn’t have a specific ask or request of Pope Francis. Meeting with him, she says, means not just advocating for her community and Northern B.C. First Nations, but for all indigenous people living in Canada.

“It’s for the benefit of all nations,” she said.