2 June 2021
St. Marcellinus and St. Peter, Martyrs
Statement from Archbishop Mulhall Regarding the Former Kamloops Residential School
My dear Faithful of the Archdiocese:
I wish to share the sentiments of sorrow and sadness expressed by the President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Richard Gagnon, regarding the recent discovery at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School on the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation. As Archbishop Gagnon stated, “It rekindles trauma in numerous communities across this land. Honouring the dignity of the lost little ones demands that the truth be brought to light.”
I have invited the Priests of the Archdiocese to join me in celebrating Mass for the deceased children and for the families who mourn. May the Lord send forth from the inner treasure of His Sacred Heart, the grace of healing, peace and consolation.
+Michael Mulhall Archbishop of Kingston
Chief J. Wilton “Willie” Littlechild and Archbishop Richard Smith met this week in Maskwacis, and are offering this joint video statement on the Kamloops Residential School discovery, and on reconciliation.
Chief Littlechild is a former Grand Chief of the Confederacy of Treaty 6 First Nations. He was also a commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a member of the 1977 Indigenous delegation to the United Nations, and worked on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. He is a recipient of the Order of Canada, Alberta Order of Excellence, and Queens Counsel.
In recent days Canadians have been shocked, saddened and angered by the discovery of the remains of 215 children in unmarked graves on the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. We pray for all those affected by the tragic death of the children who died there and at other residential schools in our country. They must never be forgotten.
There were 139 Indian Residential Schools identified by the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement (IRSSA; 2006), though this number excludes schools that operated without federal support, such as those founded solely by religious orders or provincial governments. 65 schools were administered by a Catholic institution, either a diocese or a religious community. Indian Residential Schools ran between 1870 and 1996, and over 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were placed in these schools. Approximately 16 Catholic diocese in Canada and three dozen Catholic religious communities were associated with the former Indian Residential Schools.
It is necessary for all of us to seek the full truth of what happened in these schools. The tragic discovery in Kamloops provides us with an opportunity to learn more about this dark chapter in our history and the pain experienced by so many Indigenous Peoples.
The various apologies offered over the years cannot erase the tragedy of the past. We are compelled to take actions that will lead to healing. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) Report contained 94 Calls to Action which provide a roadmap for this necessary work.
We join with the Indigenous Peoples, the Catholic community and all Canadians in grieving for those who may have been physically, emotionally and spiritually abused by the Indian Residential School system.
We must continue to build on reconciliation initiatives present throughout the country, such as the Our Lady of Guadalupe Circle, through which Indigenous Peoples, lay Catholics, bishops, priests, and women and men religious have committed to walking together on a path towards healing. What has been uncovered at the Kamloops Indian Residential School calls us once again to journey together to find light in the darkness, so that new life can begin.
Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, pray for us.
The most frequently asked questions appear below, with answers from the TRC Report, the Archdioceses of Vancouver and Toronto as well as other contributors and sources.
The disclosure of 215 unmarked graves in late May 2021 will require further investigation to seek the truth of who these children were, how they each died and why some of them were buried far from home. The School, opened in 1890, was built and initially operated by the federal government. In 1892, the federal government asked the Oblates of Mary Immaculate to take over operations, which they did until 1969. The government resumed operation of the school from 1969 until its closure in 1979.
The Oblates issued a formal apology in 1991, in addition to paying settlements to residential school survivors. An excerpt of their apology reads as follows:
“We wish to apologize in a very particular way for the instances of physical and sexual abuse that occurred in those schools…Far from attempting to defend or rationalize these cases of abuse in any way, we wish to state publicly that we acknowledge they were inexcusable, intolerable and a betrayal of trust in one of its most serious forms. We deeply and very specifically, apologize to every victim of such abuse and we seek help in searching for means to bring about healing.”
Father Ken Thorson, current Superior of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, has reached out to the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc Chief Rosanne Casimir to offer assistance and to express sympathies following the discovery of the remains of 215 children on the grounds of the former school. Father Thorson has communicated that records from the Kamloops Indian Residential School are with the Royal British Columbia Museum and has indicated the order will assist in sharing any information regarding records at this and other locations where the order operated schools.
Among the groups of dioceses and religious communities that operated residential schools, there is a spirit of cooperation with Indigenous peoples with regards to personal records and information relating to the former schools. At the same time, there are also privacy rights, including those of Indigenous peoples who attended these schools, which need to be taken into consideration on a case by case basis.
All records held by the Archdiocese of Vancouver regarding residential schools were submitted to the TRC, and they remain available for review. The TRC approved of the submission made by the Archdiocese, and Archbishop Michael Miller addressed the Commission in September 2013 at the Pacific Colosseum.
The Oblates who ran the Kamloops Indian Residential School also provided records to the TRC.
Historians and medical experts have chronicled the numerous illnesses and health challenges that plagued Indigenous people during the time of the residential schools. Most known deaths occurred from causes such as tuberculosis, diphtheria, smallpox, influenza and the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-19.
Proven incidents of abuse and neglect at residential schools, however, must not be minimized; their effects on the students’ overall health should be considered in each case. It is possible that some violent deaths occurred at the hands of abusers. Tragically, these children died away from their families and loved ones, some of them after experiencing harrowing abuse. Their suffering and the suffering of their families are an ongoing source of pain for countless people.
Indian Residential Schools operated by the Catholic Church received children either directly from families or from government agencies enforcing the School Act, which required all children in Canada to receive education in registered schools. Indian Officers, as they were called at the time, and other law enforcement agencies handled all aspects related to any removal of children.
This does not minimize the role of the Catholic Church in the operation of these schools nor any atrocities that occurred in them.
Indigenous groups, as well as various government and Church officials, submitted some information to the TRC regarding Indian Residential School cemeteries, including the one in Kamloops. Many under-documented cemeteries exist across Canada, including those involving Indigenous Peoples. The TRC called for a new system of cemetery identification and maintenance strategies and Indigenous groups are leading this development (Calls to Action, n. 76)
The names and information for a considerable number of these children are known, and, following the TRC Calls to Action n. 73 and n. 74, the Archdiocese of Vancouver will provide any available information, and with the cooperate with the maintenance of an online registry of Residential School Cemeteries. Some of these details are included on existing monuments honouring those who attended the Kamloops Indian Residential School. We hope that more families will now be able to locate their loved ones and hold commemoration ceremonies that will bring deeper healing.
When more information is known about the identity of the children discovered in May 2021, Indigenous leaders will decide how they want to move forward.
More information on unmarked cemeteries can be found here (https://nationalpost.com/opinion/raymond-j-de-souza-what-happened-at-the-kamloops-residential-school-was-an-offence-against-humanity) and here (https://vancouversun.com/news/canada/the-graves-were-never-a-secret-why-so-many-residential-school-cemeteries-remain-unmarked/wcm/c1896edf-9169-4bfb-acc9-0adb308ed590)
There is no such entity as the Catholic Church of Canada. Each Catholic diocese and religious order is an independent legal entity. Despite this reality, in 1991, Canadian Catholic Bishops, along with leaders of men and women religious communities, issued a statement that “We are sorry and deeply regret the pain, suffering and alienation that so many experienced” at residential schools.
Approximately 16 out of 70 Roman Catholic dioceses in Canada were associated with the former residential schools, in addition to about three dozen out of over one hundred Catholic institutes (commonly referred to as religious orders). Each diocese and institute is corporately and legally responsible for its own actions.
Many of the dioceses or orders operating schools have offered apologies, dating back to the early 1990s. In recent days, many bishops throughout Canada have offered statements and introduced other initiatives to continue our ongoing path to truth and reconciliation.
The Holy Father has already been invited to Canada by the present and previous Prime Minister. The Catholic Bishops of Canada, including the current and past Presidents of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, have assured the Pope they would joyfully and gratefully welcome him in a visit to Canada. Likewise, in a number of instances, Canadian Bishops, individually and collectively, have formally invited Pope Francis to visit, including with specific reference to Call to Action #58 (a recommendation of the 2015 Truth & Reconciliation Commission asking the Holy Father to apologize on Canadian soil within one year of the report being issued).
Pope Francis has encouraged the Bishops to continue taking leadership and assuming their proper role in pursuing their pastoral engagement and reconciliation efforts with Indigenous peoples, including ongoing conversations among the Bishops and Elders. This work builds on past apologies, dialogue and the desire to move forward together.
A formal papal visit involves a number of steps from both government and church leadership as well as significant logistical, financial commitments and other considerations. No papal visit has been publicly announced at this time.
Upon reading the TRC Report Summary, Catholics and all Canadians can find ways to better understand the suffering of Indigenous people as well as the initiatives started to support our path towards reconciliation and healing.
Catholics and other Canadians can find ways to better understand the suffering of Indigenous Peoples and learn about initiatives that support the path towards reconciliation and healing.
As Catholics, we should be engaged in initiatives that seek to find ways to heal our relationships with Indigenous Peoples. As Canadians, we can join with everyone in our country to learn about past tragedies and work to ensure justice for the present and future.
Many initiatives have been undertaken as a direct response to the TRC, some of which are listed here: https://ehprnh2mwo3.exactdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Calls_to_Action_English2.pdf