Stó:lō Nation residential school probe finds 158 child deaths, potential unmarked graves

A 1957 aerial photo of St. Mary’s Residential School at Fraser River Heritage Park in Mission. Several years later the buildings were demolished after the new school was built in 1960.


Stó:lō Nation announced the discovery of 158 deaths, in addition to marked and potential unmarked graves, at sites associated with former residential schools in Mission, Chilliwack and Yale on Thursday (Sept. 21).

At the historical grounds of St. Mary’s Residential School in Mission, the Xyólhmet ye Syéwiqwélh (Taking Care of Our Children) team provided an update on findings from work investigating missing children and unmarked burials at St. Mary’s in Mission, All Hallows School in Yale, as well as Coqualeetza Industrial Institute and Coqualeetza Indian Hospital in Chilliwack.

“Our people are carrying mixed emotions. We’re on a journey to confirming the truth that we carry in our DNA. We’re on our journey to discover facts to what we have already heard from our great grandparents, our grandparents, past chiefs and leaders about what took place in residential schools,” Ts’i:m Grand Chief Doug Kelly said.

“Our people are carrying the incredible pain that was inflicted upon them by removal from their home, from their parents, their grandparents, their families and placed in residential schools where there was no oversight to keep those children safe.”

Stó:lō Research and Resource Management Centre director David Schaepe and project manager Amber Kostuchenko presented findings for Stó:lō communities on Thursday morning and in the afternoon for the public.

Through archival research, the team confirmed deaths of children who either died as a direct result of their school experience or while under the care of the institution.

The research team confirmed with certainty the deaths of 96 children between the ages of five and 20 at the Coqualeetza hospital, 37 at Coqualeetza school, 20 at St. Mary’s and five at All Hallows School.

The team said many of the deaths were due to illness, with 79 dying because of tuberculosis at the Coqualeetza hospital.

Through oral historical research of St. Mary’s survivors, the team learned of cases where children were killed, as well as secretive burials of children and babies, and forced burials of children by other children.

St. Mary’s moved locations within Mission twice and through oral histories, the research found the old school to be “a place of punishment and starvation and the new school a place of pedophilia.”

“What we learned from speaking with only a handful of survivors is devastatingly traumatic and sad. Nothing less than absolutely heartbreaking,” Schaepe said.

At the old St. Mary’s school, the presentation revealed children suffered capital punishment, were exposed to diseases as a form of punishment and were subject to malnutrition and child labour. At the new school, the researchers said sexual abuse was rampant.

“We heard of terrible implications that need further work to further understand. Including a story of firemen responding to a fire at the old St. Mary’s girls’ dormitory and finding the remains of fetuses in the walls,” Schaepe said. “And as is being told in experiences at other institutions, that furnaces were used for cremation purposes.”

Schaepe says the question of who committed the atrocities remains the focus of the research team’s ongoing work.

Through geophysical data, the team confirmed the discovery of marked graves of children at the Oblates of Mary Immaculate Cemetery in Mission, situated on the edge of Fraser River Heritage Park and adjacent to the ruined foundations of the old school.

The team also confirmed the identification of anomalies representing potential unmarked burials located more broadly throughout the St. Mary’s old school grounds in examined areas.

At Coqualeetza, researchers did not identify any anomalies that could be interpreted as potential unmarked burials through phase one work. However, they did discover unmarked graves that could be associated with the hospital.

“At the Sqwá First Nation cemetery, we can confirm the identification of marked graves but without names that appear to be associated with the Coqualeetza hospital within that portion of the cemetery established for the hospital’s use,” Schaepe said.

“We can also confirm the identification of anomalies interpreted as potential unmarked burials that also appear to be associated with the Coqualeetza hospital, and the various burials of individuals who died there. We cannot confirm at this point in time whether these are adults or children.”

The geophysical search was preliminary and covered three per cent of the schools’ grounds, with more research to follow.

“It is too premature in our work and distracting to our efforts to focus on the numbers of potential unmarked burials,” Squiala First Nation Chief David Jimmie said.

The Stó:lō Nation Chiefs’ Council launched the estimated three-year project to find unmarked graves in 2021 and the Stó:lo Research and Resource Management Centre began the search at the site of the former St. Mary’s Residential School in August 2022.

The research centre used ground-penetrating radar, combined with archival research and oral testimony from those who survived to investigate potential unmarked graves and missing children related to the three former residential school sites.

The investigation came after the discovery of unmarked graves in former residential school cemeteries in Tk’emlúps (Kamloops), Penelakut Island (Kuper Island) and across Canada.

Other goals of the work included identifying Stó:lō children sent to residential schools throughout the province and country who never returned home.

The St. Mary’s Residential School was opened by Catholic missionaries in 1863 and was relocated in 1882. A new school was built in 1933 and closed in 1984.

According to the presentation, St. Mary’s was the first residential school to open in B.C. and the last to close, making it one of the longest-operating residential schools in Canada.

In 2004, a former St. Mary’s school employee was convicted of 12 counts of indecent assault in relation to his time at the school and was sentenced to three years in prison.

Meanwhile, the Coqualeetza school was opened by Methodist missionaries in 1886. It started as a day school but added a residence for boarding students the following year. A new school was built in 1889 but burned down in 1891.

The school closed in 1940 and the building became the Coqualeetza Indian Hospital. A fire destroyed nearly two-thirds of the building in 1948 and closed in 1969 after a new wing was reconstructed.

Stó:lō members of Skowkale and other First Nations subsequently took over the grounds and renovated the building.

All Hallows was operated by the Anglican Church between 1885 and 1920 and it was a segregated institution for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous girls.

According to the presentation, the Canadian government does not recognize All Hallows as a residential school due to its strict definition of residential schools and the Stó:lo Research and Resource Management Centre didn’t receive funding to do the research it completed.

Stó:lō Commemoration Ceremonies will be held at Fraser River Heritage Park in Mission next weekend at the former site of the St. Mary’s Residential School on Sept. 29, Sept. 30 and Oct. 1.

“It is with a heavy heart that we share an invitation to residential school survivors, their families and communities, community partners, neighbours and allies to witness a weaving of funeral and memorial ceremonies for the missing children and the unmarked graves and burials of the children who attended the St. Mary’s Residential School in Mission,” the Taking Care of Our Children team wrote on their website.

The National Residential School Crisis Line offers emotional support and crisis referral services for residential school survivors and their families 24 hours a day at 1-866-925-4419.

Complete Article HERE!

Retired judge visits Nunavut to hear about Inuit sexual abuse claims against priest

— The leader of a new Oblate Safeguarding Commission has begun investigating the handling of clergy abuse allegations in Nunavut.

Joannes Rivoire

By Kathleen Martens

A retired judge was in Nunavut this week to hear more about historical allegations of child sexual abuse against an Oblate Catholic priest.

André Denis, formerly of the Superior Court of Quebec, was hired by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, OMI Lacombe Canada and the Oblates of the Province of France to lead the Oblate Safeguarding Commission and review their handling of the accusations against Joannes Rivoire.

Rivoire, who served 30 years as a missionary in Nunavut, has denied the allegations.

The Oblates say Denis has until next spring to complete his report, which is independent of their Order.

“While we have supported the process by providing him with guidelines and trying to promote awareness of the Commission, I am unable to speak in detail to his ongoing work,” Rev. Ken Thorson of OMI  Lacombe in Ottawa said in an email to APTN News.

Tanya Tungilik met with Denis in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, earlier this week, but said it wasn’t clear what he is trying to achieve.

“He asked a lot of questions,” Tungilik said in a telephone interview Thursday. “I don’t think it’s going to get anything actionable done.”

The allegations against Rivoire, who worked in three remote Arctic commnunities, have dragged on for years.

It was the 1990s when four Inuit filed complaints with the RCMP in Nunavut accusing Rivoire of sexually abusing them as children between 1963 and 1993.

Marius Tungilik (in glasses) as a young boy in Nunavut.

Tungilik’s late father, Marius Tungilik, was one of the complainants.

However, Rivoire had returned to France by the time RCMP charged him in 1998 with five counts of indecently assaulting four Inuit children, including Marius.

In 2017, the charges were stayed, citing a lack of cooperation from France, which refuses to extradite its citizens.

Rivoire is now in his 90s and living in a Catholic nursing home in Lyon.

He told APTN in an exclusive interview in June 2022 that he would not return to Canada to fight the most recent charge RCMP laid against him in 2021 after an Inuk woman came forward with a new allegation.

Undeterred, a delegation of Inuit – that included Tanya – travelled to France a few months later to seek Rivoire’s extradition.

Again, France refused.

Tanya said Denis told her he is interviewing numerous people and has obtained church records relating to Rivoire’s career as a missionary in the Arctic. This is of interest to her as she has been denied a copy of her dad’s complaint to the RCMP.

“I really want to see my dad’s statement. But they [RCMP] won’t give it to me,” she said despite filing an Access to Information request.

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.
Jesse Tungilik (left), his sister Tanya Tungilik (centre), and Steve Mapsalak (right), speak about Catholic clergy abuse while in Paris.

Denis declined to comment on the commission when reached by APTN.

“Out of respect for the process, I have committed that I will only take part in media interviews after the report is complete,” he said.

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., an Inuit advocacy and land claim association that led the delegation to France in 2022, did not respond to a request for comment on the commission.

It has urged more complainants to come forward, however, because there is no statute of limitations on sex crimes in Canada.

Complete Article HERE!

Review into how Oblates handled historical sexual assault claims being met with skepticism, hope

— Retired priest Johannes Rivoire worked in Canada’s Arctic from 1960s to 1993

Johannes Rivoire, a retired priest living in France, is shown in Arviat, Nunavut, in 1979. Rivoire, who lived in Canada’s Arctic for 30 years, faced sexual abuse charges in the late 1990s, but they were stayed in 2017. He was also charged in 2021 and 2022, but France denied an extradition request.

By Juanita Taylor

An independent review looking into how the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate handled historical allegations of sexual abuse by a now-retired priest who lived in the Arctic for three decades is being met with both hope and skepticism by Inuit in Nunavut and those who have been observing his case.

“I’m glad this is going to be dealt with,” said Steve Mapsalak from his home in Naujaat, a hamlet in Nunavut. “It’s an ongoing thing and taking too long for me.”

He said Johannes Rivoire sexually abused him when he was 13 years old in Naujaat.

Now 66, Mapsalak said he has been waiting a long time for the Catholic Church to take some responsibility — not only for what he said he’s experienced as a victim of Rivoire, but for what others have gone through as well. “We are not just saying that we are victims. It happened,” he said.

Former Quebec Superior Court justice André Denis has been appointed by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, OMI Lacombe Canada and the Oblates of the Province of France to lead the Oblate Safeguarding Commission.

A statement issued earlier this month called the commission “an independent review of historical allegations of sexual abuse against Johannes Rivoire in present-day Nunavut.”

In the same statement, Denis said, “I appreciate the opportunity to lead this commission and expect that my findings will contribute to greater understanding of this history, while positioning the Oblates to set a higher standard of accountability and safety.”

A man with white hair is wearing a dark blazer and light-blue shirt.
Former Quebec Superior Court justice André Denis has been appointed to lead an independent review that will examine how the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate handled historical allegations of sexual abuse by Rivoire.

Inuit delegation travelled to France

Mapsalak and three others filed complaints against Rivoire with the police in 1998, and he was charged by the Nunavut RCMP, but by then he had returned in France.

A Canadian warrant was issued for Rivoire’s arrest in 1998, but criminal charges related to the sexual abuse of children were stayed in 2017 by the Public Prosecution Service of Canada. It said too much time had passed since the alleged events occurred, and they were no longer in the interest of the public.

In September 2021, Rivoire, who has been in France since 1993, was charged again — this time with one count of indecent assault of a girl in Arviat and Whale Cove between 1974 and 1979. That arrest warrant remains active. Then, in February 2022, he was charged with sexually assaulting a female child between 1974 and 1979.

A woman with grey hair and glasses, wearing a blue and white striped shirt, stands beside a man with black hair and a moustache, wearing a grey shirt.
Elizabeth and Steve Mapsalak are shown in Montreal before flying to France in September 2022. The couple travelled with a delegation of Inuit to implore French officials to grant Canada’s request to extradite Rivoire so he can face sexual assault charges here.

Rivoire, who was ordained in France in 1958 and lives in Lyon, France, has denied any wrongdoing. His first posting as a Catholic priest was in Igloolik, Nunavut, from 1960-65 — followed by Repulse Bay (now Naujaat) from 1965-74, and Eskimo Point, now Arviat, from 1974-93.

An extradition request was made to France by the federal Department of Justice on behalf of the Public Prosecution Service of Canada.

While France has an extradition treaty with Canada, it does not typically extradite its citizens to other countries, and Rivoire doesn’t legally have to return to Canada to face charges.

Last September, Mapsalak, along with a delegation of Inuit, travelled to Paris to implore French officials to grant Canada’s extradition request so that Rivoire can face the sexual assault charges here.

“There are people suffering. We are suffering,” Mapsalak said.

His group was also in France to raise public awareness in the French media about allegations against Rivoire as a way to aid them in their cause. But on Oct. 14, France denied the extradition request.

‘Transparency and accountability’

Rev. Ken Thorson, head of the OMI Lacombe Province in Ottawa, said Denis’s commission will have full access to records on Rivoire, including allegations made against him in both Canada and France.

“We want to better understand how past allegations of abuse were addressed within the community,” he said in an interview with CBC News.

A man with greyish hair, wearing glasses and a grey shirt and jacket, stands in front of a crucifix on a wall.
Rev. Ken Thorson, head of the OMI Lacombe Province in Ottawa, says he’s had conversations with Indigenous people, church leaders, survivors and their families, along with Catholics, about the many mistakes that were made in the church’s history.

Thorson said Denis was chosen to lead the commission because of his experience presiding over a trial in 2008-09 involving the federal Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act, as well as for his work in 2020 examining how the Archdiocese of Montreal and others in Quebec handled allegations of sexual abuse of minors.

He said the former judge will also identify improvements in Oblate policies and governance that need to be changed to better safeguard minors.

“We want to ensure a high level of transparency and accountability,” Thorson said.

Retired priest in elder-care facility

Lieve Halsberghe, an advocate for people who have been sexually abused by the clergy in Belgium, said she doesn’t trust the process.

“Another commission, wow. I mean, they haven’t learned because they keep on repeating the same blah, blah, blah. And this is not a new thing. It’s a very old technique that they use.”

A woman with long brownish hair wears an orange shirt.
Lieve Halsberghe, an advocate for people who have been sexually abused by the clergy, is shown at the train station in Lyon, France, last September. Instead of a review, she wants Rivoire to face justice.

Halsberghe travelled to France with the Inuit delegation last fall to pressure the government to extradite Rivoire to Canada.

“They have to stall time, we’re just waiting for Rivoire to die,” she said of the former priest, who is in his early 90s and currently living in a privately run elder-care centre in France, according to Thorson.

“Rivoire disappeared in the middle of the night with just a backpack,” Tanya Tungilik told a news conference in Paris last fall. Her late father, Marius Tungilik, also filed a sexual assault complaint against Rivoire with the RCMP in Nunavut.

Instead of a review, Halsberghe said she wants Rivoire to face justice. “We will let him defend himself in a court of law, you know, at the same standard of every other citizen. He’s also a Canadian citizen.”

Inuit group hopes review will bring peace

Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of in Boston, told CBC News that over the last 20 years, she’s seen an increase in independent reviews commissioned by the church.

“The whole purpose of these reviews — and I’m going to sound a little cynical here — is to quell public outrage. It’s a recognition by the church that they have received terrible publicity, that there is substantial evidence that [a] coverup happened and that they enabled the sexual abuse of children,” she said.

A building behind a stone wall.
The Inuit delegation from Canada met with the Oblates at the Provincial House of Oblates in Lyon during their trip to France last September.

Thorson said he understands the skepticism that people may have, saying he’s had conversations with Indigenous people, church leaders, survivors and their families, along with Catholics, about the many mistakes that were made in the church’s history.

“I really have come to believe that there’s no reconciliation without trust, and there’s no healing possible. And so I’m doing what we’re able to do right now — understanding that not everybody is going to be trusting or supportive of us, and yet it’s what we can do right now.”

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, an organization that represents Inuit in Canada, issued a statement that says it is “looking forward to engaging with Justice Denis and the Oblates to achieve a greater understanding of the decisions that contributed to the unconscionable situation of an accused criminal being allowed to evade justice.”

The group said it hopes the review will bring a small measure of peace to victims through an assurance that such actions aren’t repeated.

“I’m very hopeful,” Steve Mapsalak said.

Thorson is encouraging anyone who is willing and able to contribute to the commission to email former justice Denis directly at

His final report is expected to be delivered in English, French and Inuktitut by April 1, 2024.

Complete Article HERE!

Oblates paying legal bill for accused priest in Manitoba

— Fr. Arthur Massé has pleaded not guilty to one count of indecent assault

Catholic priest Arthur Massé (right) leaves court in Winnipeg with his lawyer George Green.

By Kathleen Martens

This story contains details about child abuse that may be distressing to some viewers. Canada’s National Residential School Crisis Line is available 24 hours a day at 1-866-925-4419.

An order of Roman Catholic priests is picking up the legal tab for one of its own on trial for historical sexual abuse at a residential school in Manitoba.

Fr. Ken Thorson, spokesperson for Oblates of Mary Immaculate Lacombe (OMI), said his Ottawa-based order is supplying the defence lawyer for Fr. Arthur Massé.

“Yes, Arthur Massé is an Oblate priest,” Thorson confirmed in an email to APTN News. “It’s important to remember that Oblates take a vow of poverty – where they own nothing as individuals and share everything in common.

“As part of this commitment, they are provided with basic supports in retirement, even if they have been removed from active ministry.”

Thorson noted these “basic supports include legal representation, in the interest of ensuring a fair trial. We recognize that this may be unsettling to some and want to be clear that we make no assumption of innocence in fulfilling our obligations.”

Fr. Ken Thorson is the provincial superior of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate based in Ottawa.

Massé, 93, has pleaded not guilty to one count of indecent assault after a female student alleged he attacked her in a girls’ bathroom when she was 10 years old.

He wore his clerical collar to court and while testifying on his own behalf.

Grandmother Victoria McIntosh told court that Massé pushed open a bathroom stall door, grabbed and lifted her up, pinned her against the wall and tried to fondle her with his other hand. She said she managed to turn her head and get away while he landed a kiss on her cheek.

Massé was either an administrator or teacher at the time in Fort Alexander School on what is now Sagkeeng First Nation, located about an hour northeast of Winnipeg.

Justice Candace Grammond has said she will deliver her decision on March 30 after the two-day trial concluded March 8.

Victoria McIntosh alleges she was indecently assaulted by a priest about 50 years ago.

Massé told court he worked at three residential schools in Canada for OMI, which staffed 48 residential schools across Canada – more than any other religious entity. The schools were run by churches and founded, built and funded by the federal government for more than 100 years as a means to assimilate Inuit, Métis and First Nations children into western society.

An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families and forced into the government’s day and residential school system. Many have alleged they were mentally, physically and sexually abused.

Only a handful of priests have been charged and convicted, something Thorson said he is aware of.

“Clergy sexual abuse is a tragedy and we apologize to anyone who has had their safety and inherent dignity offended by an Oblate,” he wrote to APTN. “We believe that any allegations of this nature should be thoroughly and transparently investigated by secular authorities. To that end, our safeguarding policy outlines mandatory reporting requirements and guidelines for cooperation with law enforcement.”

Thorson said OMI did its own investigation in collaboration with the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (monitoring committee) and Massé was immediately removed from public ministry and placed under active monitoring.

The Fort Alexander Residential School operated from 1905 to 1970 on the Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba.

“As the legal process progresses, we will continue to cooperate with a goal of supporting those who have brought complaints forward in pursuit of justice and accountability,” Thorson added.

APTN Investigates found OMI was put in charge of 14 residential schools in Manitoba. There were 139 schools in Canada.

Investigates discovered 82 Catholic priests and nuns from OMI and the Missionary Oblates Sisters were named as alleged abusers in Manitoba residential schools, resulting in 146 lawsuits.

Court documents reveal the Fort Alexander Indian Residential School housed more than 70 alleged abusers from the 1930s to the 1960s.

Massé, who was charged in June 2022 with the one count of indecent assault, was accused of physical and sexual abuse in five separate lawsuits from 1998 to 2006.

Complete Article HERE!

Traumas ‘remain to be healed,’ Regina archdiocese says after Lebret residential school discovery

— Lebret Indian Residential School was run by the Roman Catholic Church through the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate from 1884 to 1973.

The Star Blanket Cree Nation, northeast of Regina, has announced the discovery of possible graves after a ground-penetrating radar search of the former site of the Qu’Appelle Indian Residential School. Aboriginal students, principal Father Joseph Hugonnard, and staff, including the Grey Nuns, of the industrial School are shown in Fort Qu’Appelle, Sask., in this May 1885 file photo.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Regina says it stands with the Star Blanket Cree Nation and all those affected by the the recent discovery of human remains on the grounds of the former Lebret Indian Residential School, and it understands that the findings are deeply traumatizing.

The First Nation in Saskatchewan said on Thursday that ground-penetrating radar discovered more than 2,000 areas of interest and a child’s bone was separately found at the site of one of the longest-running residential schools in the country.

The school was one of the first three to open in Canada and was run by the Roman Catholic Church through the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate from 1884 to 1973.

It operated for another 25 years until it closed in 1998.

“It is especially difficult to hear that it is the remains of a child that have been found,” the Catholic Archdiocese of Regina said in a statement. “It is a painful reminder of all the children who did not return home from residential schools.

“Each finding like this can reopen wounds and resurface inter-generational trauma for survivors and loved ones pointing us to the challenges and hurts that remain to be healed.”

An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend residential schools over a century in Canada and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report detailed that many experienced emotional, physical, sexual and spiritual abuse.

The school had a reputation for strict religious instruction, strenuous physical labour and physical abuse. Survivors told the commission about extended periods of kneeling, beds being pushed over with kids still on top and slaps across the face. One survivor shared how he saw a fellow student tied to a heat register.

The school often had outbreaks of disease and a high mortality rate, the commission’s report found. Louise Moine wrote about tuberculosis rampaging through the school in her memoir.

“There was a death every month on the girls’ side and some of the boys went also,” Moine wrote.

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation has a record of 56 student deaths at the school.

Sharon Strongarm, a survivor of the school, held back tears Thursday as she explained how she was taken from her parents. She said she and her siblings had to learn to survive and to forgive.

“They tried to take our spirits away. They tried to take the Indian out of us,” she said. “But thank the Creator we are back here, strong as we will ever be, helping each other.”

The community is looking to expand its search areas and have approval from some nearby landowners to start work in the spring. They are also looking to excavate two unexpected rooms that were located underground during the initial search, project lead Sheldon Poitras said.

Areas for the search were selected after testimonials from former students and elders who witnessed or heard stories of what happened at the residential school about 75 kilometres northeast of Regina.

The jawbone fragment, found last October, was identified by the province’s coroner’s service to be that of a child between the ages of four and six from about 125 years ago. It was not located anywhere near an area that was known to be a graveyard.

“This is physical proof of an unmarked grave,” Poitras said.

Poitras said his team is looking at options, including miniature core drilling to enable DNA testing, to confirm what is there.

He said the area where the school was located makes it difficult to do ground-penetrating radar and they don’t believe all areas of interest are unmarked graves.

The institution was burned down and rebuilt twice.

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller said on social media that the “finding of human remains of a very young child at the site of Lebret Residential School is not only a tragic reminder of Canada’s painful history and of the heinous acts that were committed in residential schools, it’s further proof of that.”

Star Blanket Cree Nation Chief Michael Starr said last week it shows the harsh truth of what happened within the walls of the Qu’Appelle Indian Residential School.

“It was unthinkable. It was profound. It was sad. It was hurtful,” Starr said. “And it made us very angry what had happened to our young people here.”

The Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program has a hotline to help residential school survivors and their relatives suffering trauma invoked by the recall of past abuse. The number is 1-866-925-4419.

Complete Article HERE!