Indigenous leaders tell pope of abuses at Canada residential schools

President of the Metis community, Cassidy Caron, speaks to the media in St. Peter’s Square after their meeting with Pope Francis at The Vatican, Monday, March 28, 2022.


Indigenous leaders from Canada and survivors of the country’s notorious residential schools met with Pope Francis on Monday and told him of the abuses they suffered at the hands of Catholic priests and school workers. They came hoping to secure a papal apology and a commitment by the church to repair the harm done.

“While the time for acknowledgement, apology and atonement is long overdue, it is never too late to do the right thing,” Cassidy Caron, president of the Metis National Council, told reporters in St. Peter’s Square after the audience.

This week’s meetings, postponed from December because of the pandemic, are part of the Canadian church and government’s efforts to respond to Indigenous demands for justice, reconciliation and reparations — long-standing demands that gained traction last year after the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves outside some of the schools.

More than 150,000 native children in Canada were forced to attend state-funded Christian schools from the 19th century until the 1970s in an effort to isolate them from the influence of their homes and culture, and Christianize and assimilate them into mainstream society, which previous Canadian governments considered superior.

Francis set aside several hours this week to meet privately with the delegations from the Metis and Inuit on Monday, and First Nations on Thursday, with a mental health counselor in the room for each session. The delegates then gather Friday as a group for a more formal audience, with Francis delivering an address.

The encounters Monday included prayers in the Metis and Inuit languages and other gestures of deep symbolic significance. The Inuit delegation brought a traditional oil lamp, or qulliq, that is lit whenever Inuit gather and stayed lit in the pope’s library throughout the meeting. The Inuit delegates presented Francis with a sealskin stole and a sealskin rosary case.

The Metis offered Francis a pair of red beaded moccasins, “a sign of the willingness of the Metis people to forgive if there is meaningful action from the church,” the group explained. The red dye “represents that even though Pope Francis does not wear the traditional red papal shoes, he walks with the legacy of those who came before him, the good, the great and the terrible.”

In a statement, the Vatican said each meeting lasted about an hour “and was characterized by desire on the part of the pope to listen and make space for the painful stories brought by the survivors.”

The Canadian government has admitted that physical and sexual abuse was rampant at the schools, with students beaten for speaking their native languages. That legacy of that abuse and isolation from family has been cited by Indigenous leaders as a root cause of the epidemic rates of alcohol and drug addiction on Canadian reservations.

Nearly three-quarters of the 130 residential schools were run by Catholic missionary congregations.

Last May, the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Nation announced the discovery of 215 gravesites near Kamloops, British Columbia, that were found using ground-penetrating radar. It was Canada’s largest Indigenous residential school and the discovery of the graves was the first of numerous, similar grim sites across the country.

Caron said Francis listened intently Monday as three of the many Metis survivors told him their personal stories of abuse at residential schools. The pope showed sorrow but offered no immediate apology. Speaking in English, he repeated the words Caron said she had emphasized in her remarks: truth, justice and healing.

“I take that as a personal commitment,” Caron said, surrounded by Metis fiddlers who accompanied her into the square.

She said what needs to follow is an apology that acknowledges the harm done, the return of Indigenous artifacts, a commitment to facilitating prosecutions of abusive priests and access to church-held records of residential schools.

Canadian Bishop Raymond Poisson, who heads the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, insisted the Vatican holds no such records and said they more likely are held by individual religious orders in Canada or at their headquarters in Rome.

Even before the grave sites were discovered, Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission specifically called for a papal apology to be delivered on Canadian soil for the church’s role in the abuses. Francis has committed to traveling to Canada, though no date for such a visit has been announced.

“Primarily, the reconciliation requires action. And we still are in need of very specific actions from the Catholic Church,” said Natan Obed, president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, who led the Inuit delegation.

He cited the reparations the Canadian church has been ordered to pay, access to records to understand the scope of the unmarked graves, as well as Francis’ own help to find justice for victims of a Catholic Oblate priest, the Rev. Johannes Rivoire, accused of multiple cases of sexual abuse who is currently living in France.

“We often as Inuit have felt powerless over time to sometimes correct the wrongs that have been done to us,” Obed said. “We are incredibly resilient and we are great at forgiving … but we are still in search of lasting respect and the right to self-determination and the acknowledgement of that right by the institutions that harmed us.”

As part of a settlement of a lawsuit involving the government, churches and the approximately 90,000 surviving students, Canada paid reparations that amounted to billions of dollars being transferred to Indigenous communities.

The Catholic Church, for its part, has paid over $50 million and now intends to add $30 million more over the next five years.

The Metis delegation made clear to Francis that the church-run residential school system, and the forced removal of children from their homes, facilitated the ability of Canada authorities to take indigenous lands while also teaching Metis children “that they were not to love who they are as Metis people,” Caron said.

“Our children came home hating who they were, hating their language, hating their culture, hating their tradition,” Caron said. “They had no love. But our survivors are so resilient. They are learning to love.”

The Argentine pope is no stranger to offering apologies for his own errors and what he himself has termed the “crimes” of the institutional church.

During a 2015 visit to Bolivia, he apologized for the sins, crimes and offenses committed by the church against Indigenous peoples during the colonial-era conquest of the Americas. In Dublin, Ireland, in 2018, he offered a sweeping apology to those sexually and physically abused over generations.

That same year, he met privately with three Chilean sex abuse survivors whom he had discredited by backing a bishop they accused of covering up their abuse. In a series of meetings that echo those now being held for the Canadian delegates, Francis listened, and apologized.

Complete Article HERE!

Oblates to open Rome archives next month for residential school records search

First time a Canadian researcher granted access to Oblates archives in Rome

By Olivia Stefanovich

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) plans to begin a search as soon as next month in the archives of a Roman Catholic order that ran 48 residential schools in Canada, including the institution in Kamloops, B.C., where last year more than 200 unmarked graves were discovered.

A Catholic entity that ran residential schools in Canada will soon open its archive in Rome, bringing some hope to survivors searching for records.

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) plans to begin a search as soon as next month in the archives of a Roman Catholic order that ran 48 residential schools in Canada, including the institution in Kamloops, B.C., where last year more than 200 unmarked graves were discovered.

Raymond Frogner, head of archives for the NCTR, will be visiting the Rome archives of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate to review and digitize residential school-related records.

It’s the first time any Canadian researcher has been granted access to the Oblate General Archives.

“It’s quite a wild card,” Frogner said. “We’ve been told there’s correspondence there and other documentation, but we are still a bit in the dark of what is held there.”

He said the NCTR is still negotiating with the Oblates to access the personnel files of priests and residential school staff. He said the Oblates are seeking restrictions around records from those members who are still alive.

Frogner said the long-term goal is to have everything open for research, access and use.

The Oblates have so far provided more than 40,000 files to the NCTR through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but the discovery in May 2021 on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School led the order to seek this agreement, said Rev. Ken Thorson, leader of the Oblates in Canada.

Rev. Ken Thorson, leader of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate in Canada, said the order has a significant contribution to make to ensure the truth of the residential school experience is known as part of the healing process.

“The Oblates have been moved by the events of the last year,” said Thorson, who is based in Ottawa.

“It was my feeling that we should ensure that every document that might be related to the residential school history should be made available.”

‘These documents do not belong in Rome’

Thorson acknowledged that the Oblates have a significant contribution to make to ensure the truth of the residential school experience is known and to facilitate a deeper understanding of this history as part of the ongoing healing process.

“This is the most important work that I’ve been given to do as an Oblate leader,” he said.

Thorson said the Oblate archives in Rome, which are separate from the Vatican archives, could contain letters from missionaries to religious leaders about their work.

Evelyn Korkmaz, a survivor of the former St. Anne’s Residential School, has repeatedly called on the Roman Catholic Church to release all residential school records.

Residential school survivor Evelyn Korkmaz said she is hopeful the agreement between the NCTR and the Oblates will reveal more information about St. Anne’s Residential School in Fort Albany, Ont., which the Oblates ran and she attended from 1969 to 1972.

“It’s time to open that door of horrors and take a look at what’s inside,” Korkmaz said.

“These documents do not belong in Rome. They belong here, in Canada.”

Records can’t have any restrictions, survivor says

Korkmaz says she wants to make sure other Catholic entities, including the Vatican, release all residential school records in their possession, adding that there should be no restrictions on the files.

“We need to know information on priests and brothers or nuns who have passed away,” Korkmaz said.

“But we also need to know of the priests or nuns or cardinals, whatever, that are still alive today because those ones are the ones that are continuing to do damage.”

Frogner said that records still held by the Oblates in Rome are vital to the work of the NCTR, which was created to be the main repository for the documented history of the residential school system in Canada.

More documents identified in Canada

Frogner said the NCTR has already identified Oblate records held by its archives in Canada, including more than 1,000 boxes held in Alberta. The centre is working to access those records through a separate research agreement with the Catholic entity.

More than 1,000 other files are located at the Société historique de Saint-Boniface in northern Manitoba, while other documentation is held at the Royal B.C. Museum in Victoria and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver, he said.

Before Frogner goes to Rome, an Indigenous delegation from Canada is heading to the Vatican for meetings with Pope Francis.

The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and the Grey Nuns of the Cross ran the former St. Anne’s Residential School in Fort Albany, Ont.

The delegates are expected to appeal for an official apology from the Pope for the Church’s role in running residential schools and press for the disclosure of more records, which they have discussed with the NCTR.

Korkmaz said she would acknowledge a papal apology, but it wouldn’t mean much to her because it would be “hollow words.”

“I’m more concerned about the documentation than an apology that he’s forced to say,” Korkmaz said.

“What would mean more to me is bringing those documents back to Canada.”

Complete Article HERE!

Catholic order says it will open up residential school records in Rome — but survivor remains skeptical

Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate operated 48 residential schools in Canada

Evelyn Korkmaz, a survivor of abuse at St. Anne’s Indian Residential School, has long been calling on the Oblates to release records in Canada and Rome.

A Catholic order that ran residential schools across Canada now says it will open up its archives in Rome to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR).

This is welcome news for survivors, many of whom have long called for the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and other Catholic entities to make their records available.

Survivor Evelyn Korkmaz says she remains skeptical, though.

“The devil is in the details. We have to know the details before anybody agrees to releasing these documents,” said Korkmaz, a survivor of abuse at St. Anne’s Indian Residential School in Fort Albany, Ont.

She wants access to her own student records, as well as journals and other archives, so she can trace her experience at the school.

“We’ve been disappointed in the past. So I don’t want to get my hopes up and get these documents and find out that they were redacted,” said Korkmaz.

A joint statement between the NCTR and the Oblates, released on Tuesday, said the religious order will grant “full access to critical residential school records.”

The Oblates operated 48 residential schools in Canada, including the Marieval Indian Residential School in Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan and the Kamloops Indian Residential School in Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation in B.C., where unmarked graves have recently been identified.

Stephanie Scott is the executive director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

The centre’s executive director, Stephanie Scott, said she’s had recent discussions with Oblate Father Ken Thorson about access to the records and he offered an opportunity to “investigate their archives, find some research, see what’s available.”

“There could have been letters written that ended up in Rome that are there, so we’re going to find out what truly exists,” said Scott.

Those records belong to Canada. They belong to the people first and foremost.
– Brenda Macdougall, University of Ottawa

The Oblate leadership is now seeking the most appropriate way to figure out what documents may exist, and to ensure documents related to Oblate involvement in residential schools might be made available, Thorson told CBC in an email.

He said documents will not be redacted and “any records from residential schools found in this process would be returned to Canada.”

“We are looking to the [centre] for guidance in the development of an appropriate third-party process to facilitate this preliminary work. We anticipate being able to share more about this in the near future,” said Thorson.

No longer in this country

In November, CBC reported that researchers in Ottawa had uncovered new evidence to suggest some archival records relating to residential schools in Canada are now only available in Rome.

“The records that we had looked at here are no longer in this country,” said Brenda Macdougall, a professor and research chair in Métis family and community traditions at the University of Ottawa.

She and a research colleague made the discovery when updating an academic article.

“Those records belong to Canada. They belong to the people first and foremost. … They have to come back through subpoena or the Church. The Pope himself can suspend canonical law and return them,” Macdougall told CBC in November.

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation already holds close to 7,000 survivor statements and more than five million records, said Scott.

She said there’s a commitment to finding all residential school records “no matter where they are located or how long it takes.”

Complete Article HERE!

Quebec Superior Court allows class-action against Catholic missionary group for sexual assault

The lawsuit states that the abuse committed on more than 200 victims at the hands of Catholic priests involved children aged eight to 10 years old.


The Superior Court of Quebec has authorized a class-action lawsuit against a Catholic Church missionary congregation for sexual abuse committed on more than 200 victims, many of whom were children, from 1940 onwards.

The lawsuit request was first filed in 2018 regarding sexual assaults allegedly committed in Basse-Côte-Nord (Lower North Shore), Que., by Father Alexis Joveneau — who died over 25 years ago — and other religious members of the congregation.

On Tuesday, the Superior Court authorized the suit following a hearing that took place on Nov. 1, which saw many of the victims from different communities attend by videoconference.

The case states that the Catholic group, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate — founded by a French Catholic priest in the south of France in 1816 — was “very present” in many Innu, Atikamekw, Anishinaabe, Cree, Inuit and non-native communities of Quebec.

The lead plaintiff in the case is Noëlla Mark, who is now in her early 60s and lives in Unamen Shipu, a small Innu First Nations community in the province.

More than 200 alleged victims, both men and women, have since contacted the law firm representing the plaintiff to sign on to the lawsuit.

The suit states that the religious congregation is directly responsible for the sexual assaults committed by its members, adding that the congregation must have known that Father Alexis Joveneau and other priests sexually abused vulnerable people under their control.

Lawyers representing the plaintiffs said Wednesday that more than 30 missionaries have been identified as suspected perpetrators.

The Superior Court’s judgement authorizing the class-action highlights five main priests in the case: Fathers Alexis Joveneau, Omer Provencher, Edmond Brouillard, Raynald Couture and Edouard Meilleur.

Lawyer Alain Arsenault said in 2018 that the abuse involved children aged eight to 10 years old, and that it went on for years.

Anyone who believes they are a victim of abuse by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate congregation is asked to contact lawyers at Arsenault-Dufresne-Wee, the firm handling the case.

Complete Article HERE!