Catholic order that staffed Kamloops residential school refuses to share records families seek

B.C. government has asked Sisters of St. Ann to turn over documents ‘immediately’

Seven of Bronwyn Shoush’s aunts and uncles lie in residential school graves in Mission, B.C. For decades, she’s been searching for answers about how exactly they died.

By Angela Sterritt, Jennifer Wilson

The order of nuns that taught at the former Kamloops residential school, and others in B.C., continues to withhold important documents that could help tell the story of how Indigenous children died at the schools over the past 150 years.

The Sisters of St. Ann has never approved the release of relevant government records — documents that could relate to deaths at the schools — according to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation and the religious order.

“It might be because there were things that weren’t relevant to the school system or names of those students, as well as other people like visitors,” said Sister Marie Zarowny, a St. Ann spokesperson.

She also said the sisters have provided some documents to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission about the residential school system, but is unwilling to share some records outlining internal workings of the congregation, as well as what is called the school “narrative.”

“What is in those documents, why can’t I have access to them?” said Bronwyn Shoush, whose father attended St. Mary’s residential school in Mission, B.C.

Like Kamloops, it was also staffed by the Sisters of St. Ann and administered by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.

Seven of her father’s nine siblings lie buried in the residential school cemetery. The children were all in marked graves that have since fallen into disrepair, she says. Yet she knows very little about how they came to die at school. Her father told her one sibling was killed in what he was told was an accident — falling on a pitchfork. Another died suddenly and others from Illness, but Shoush has few other details.

The National Student Memorial Register lists 21 children as having died at St. Mary’s, but to add to the confusion, none of her aunts or uncles are named.

“The longer it’s locked up and held or destroyed or held in secret, the more you’re likely to be very suspicious,” Shoush said.

The St. Mary’s residential school cemetery in Mission, B.C., where school children as well as nuns and the institution’s administrators are buried.

It also goes against the Truth and Reconciliation mandate as set up by the Indian Residential School Settlement agreement.

“This is a concern and remains inconsistent with the actions of the vast majority of other signatories to the Settlement Agreement,” reads a statement from Stephanie Scott, executive director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

‘Turn over these records immediately”

The Royal B.C. Museum that houses St. Ann’s private archival collection has appealed to the nuns to “provide better accessibility of these records to the public — but particularly to Indigenous communities whose members attended residential schools.”

Researchers can access the archives by appointment, but some have noted it’s not always easy to do so.

The B.C. government has also called on the Sisters of St. Ann “to turn over these records immediately.”

In the order’s defence, Zarowny said St. Ann wanted to be able to fix historical inaccuracies before documents were made public.

But Ry Moran, who guided the creation of the TRC’s national archive, says having a hodgepodge of the records conceals more important truths.

“The biggest inaccuracy is that kids’ own names were robbed from them and replaced with Christian Western names,” Moran said.

This is the St. Mary’s residential school cemetery. The National Student Memorial Register names 21 children who died at the school, but none of Bronwyn’s relatives are listed on it.

“We’re going back and figuring out what names, lands, territories, identities and villages were actually stolen from kids in the first place.”

The sisters taught at St. Mary’s, Kamloops, Kuper Island and Lower Post Indian residential schools where children experienced rampant physical, emotional and sexual abuse.

Records can be forced by law

St. Ann is not the only entity to refuse to hand over the documents.

Father Ken Thorson of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate told the CBC that his congregation would not be providing personnel files of the staff at the residential schools citing privacy laws.

Those could include disciplinary records of nuns who treated children poorly.

But the TRC’s mandate outlines that “in cases where privacy interests of an individual exist, and subject to and in compliance with applicable privacy legislation and access to information legislation, researchers for the Commission shall have access to the documents.”

And it’s not just churches who have refused to give up residential school documents.

The federal government has been in court since 2020 trying to block the creation of statistical reports on residential school abuse claims.

The Supreme Court of Canada also ruled in 2017 that thousands of records documenting abuse at residential schools should be destroyed.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Crown-Indigenous Relations said, “As per the terms of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, Canada was obligated to disclose all relevant documents to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”

It goes on to say, “the courts have consistently found that Canada has met its document disclosure obligations and that no further action is required.”

Still, those at the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation disagree.

“The federal government and provincial governments also have not shared all the records they agreed to provide to the NCTR. We continue to negotiate acquisition of further records from many settler organizations — both religious and governmental,” the statement says.

For those like Shoush who want information about how her relatives died, it could take years of fighting just to find the truth.

Complete Article HERE!

Even after Kamloops, the Catholic Church opts for obfuscation

A group of youths lead a group drumming and singing at sunset outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, to honour the 215 children found in Kamloops on June 4, 2021.

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The word “shocking” has come up a lot in news stories about the discovery of the remains of 215 children at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops; though, to anyone familiar with the history of such schools, there was nothing remotely surprising about it.

That most of the country was “shocked” by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation revelation of unmarked graves speaks to our collective ignorance about our country’s past and the sins of commission and omission made by those in positions of authority who sought to bury the truth.

The abuse of Indigenous children by both church and state that occurred for more than a century at residential schools across Canada occurred on multiple levels, in both life and death. Children removed from their families by the state and entrusted to clergy were subjected to such physical, sexual and emotional abuse that some Indigenous youth took their own lives to escape the horror. Many others ran away, only to die from exposure. Others died of disease.

“The general [Department of] Indian Affairs policy was to hold the schools responsible for burial expenses when a student died at school. The school generally determined the location and nature of that burial. Parental requests to have children’s bodies returned home for burial were generally refused as being too costly,” reads the 2015 final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which estimated that as many as 6,000 children died at residential schools.

“In short, throughout the system’s history, children who died at school were buried in school or mission cemeteries, often in poorly marked graves. The closing of the schools has led, in many cases, to the abandonment of these cemeteries.”

No institution, not even the government, knows more about what happened at Canada’s residential schools than the Catholic Church. But the Catholic orders that ran most residential schools and the bishops who oversee the church in Canada today have employed a plethora of dilatory measures to avoid revealing the truth.

That an institution known for maintaining meticulous records continues to offer excuses about the difficulties encountered in locating, translating or digitizing church documents about residential schools makes its inertia even more disgraceful.

The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, which ran the Kamloops school, offered after the discovery to “commit to do more” to make its records available. Yet the Oblates and other church authorities have consistently frustrated the efforts of Indigenous families, investigators and researchers to uncover the truth.

Given the church’s track record of obfuscation and obstruction, it is no surprise that Indigenous people are still waiting for an apology from the Pope.

In 2015, the final report of the TRC called on Pope Francis to issue an apology to survivors, families and Indigenous communities for the church’s role in the “spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children in Catholic-run residential schools” within one year of the report’s publication. It asked also that the apology “be delivered by the Pope in Canada.”

Despite the good-faith efforts of some clergy to push for one, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops appears to consider a formal apology too risky. To be clear, this has little to do with theology. The CCCB seems to have far more worldly concerns about the potential legal consequences of any apology that acknowledges the abuses committed in the church’s name by clergy at residential schools.

So, instead, Indigenous people are left to suffer yet another indignity.

“I don’t know whether seeking always some big and dramatic thing is the way forward,” Cardinal Thomas Collins, the Archbishop of Toronto, told the CBC’s Rosemary Barton on Sunday. “I think the much more important thing is the day-to-day work, quietly, gently.”

His statement provides yet more evidence that the Catholic hierarchy has learned nothing despite the abuse scandals of recent decades. A hush-hush culture remains endemic throughout the church. Secrecy is its modus operandi.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reiterated the TRC demand for an apology during a 2017 private audience with the Pope at the Vatican. But, in 2018, then-CCCB president Bishop Lionel Gendron wrote in a letter to Indigenous people that “after carefully considering the request and extensive dialogue with the bishops of Canada, [Pope Francis] felt he could not personally respond.”

Read into that statement what you may. To many, it reeked of the church’s own internal politics and basic unwillingness to take responsibility for its actions.

On Sunday, Francis addressed the “shocking news” from Kamloops from the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square: “May the political and religious authorities continue to collaborate with determination to shed light on this sad affair and commit humbly to a path of reconciliation.”

One can only pray.

Complete Article HERE!

Amid calls for Catholic Church to take responsibility for residential schools, Pope meets with Canadian Cardinals

The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate ran about 47 per cent of Canada’s residential schools, including the one in Kamloops. They have refused to release their records to help identify the remains

In this file photo, Pope Francis arrives to lead Holy Rosary prayer in Vatican gardens to end the month of May, at the Vatican, May 31, 2021.

By Sarah Smellie

Pope Francis met with two Canadian Cardinals on Saturday amid mounting pressure on the Catholic Church to take responsibility for Canada’s residential school system, though it’s not known what was discussed.

No information was immediately available about why the Pope met with Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, and Cardinal Michael Czerny, a top official in the Vatican’s migrants and refugees portfolio.

The meetings were disclosed in the Vatican’s daily roster of papal audiences.

Past appointment listings show Pope Francis meets with Oulette every Saturday, but meetings with Czerny are rare. The two last met on May 10, but Czerny’s name does not appear in previous agendas.

The Vatican did not respond to request for comment on the meeting, and attempts to reach the cardinals were unsuccessful.

The appointments came a day after nine United Nations human rights experts implored the Catholic Church, as well as Canadian authorities, “to conduct prompt and thorough investigations” into an unmarked burial site believed to contain the remains of 215 Indigenous children found at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia.

The Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation announced last week that ground-penetrating radar confirmed the findings.

“Large scale human rights violations have been committed against children belonging to Indigenous communities, it is inconceivable that Canada and the Holy See would leave such heinous crimes unaccounted for and without full redress,” said a Friday release from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The Kamloops school operated between 1890 and 1969, when the federal government took over operations from the Catholic Church and ran it as a day school until it closed in 1978.

Some 150,000 First Nations, Metis and Inuit children were forcibly sent to residential schools, where many suffered abuse and even death.

The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate ran about 47 per cent of Canada’s residential schools, including the one in Kamloops. The Oblates have refused to release their records to help identify the remains.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also put pressure on the Catholic Church Friday, calling on officials to “step up” and take responsibility for its role in the system and urging the release of records related to the schools.

It is inconceivable that Canada and the Holy See would leave such heinous crimes unaccounted for and without full redress
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Trudeau said he was “deeply disappointed” by the position the Catholic Church has taken, adding that he personally asked Pope Francis in 2017 to consider apologizing for the institution’s part in the government-sponsored, church-run schools.

“It’s something we are all still waiting for the Catholic Church to do,” Trudeau said.

Ouellet is originally from La Motte, Que., and was said to be a frontrunner to succeed Pope Benedict XVI as head of the Church in 2013. He plays a key role in the selection of bishops and archbishops around the world.

Czerny is a Czech-born Canadian whose family settled in Montreal. He is the Vatican’s under-secretary of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

Friday’s release from the nine independent experts from the UN’s human rights office said they expect the church to provide judicial authorities with “full access …. to the archives of the residential schools run by the institution,” as well as thoroughly investigate allegations concerning the schools and publicly disclose the results of their efforts.

The release also took aim at Ottawa, saying Canada’s Indigenous people have been waiting “for too many years” for the federal government to implement the recommendations in the Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, released in 2015.

Ottawa must investigate the sites of all other residential schools in Canada, the release said.

“The judiciary should conduct criminal investigations into all suspicious death and allegations of torture and sexual violence against children hosted in residential schools, and prosecute and sanction the perpetrators and concealers who may still be alive,” the experts said in the release.

The signatories to the release included Mama Fatima Singhateh, an expert on the sexual exploitation of children, and Francisco Cali Tzay, an expert on the rights of Indigenous people.

Complete Article HERE!

First Nation calls on Catholic Church to apologize for residential schools

— and release records on Kamloops

amloops residents and First Nations people gather to listen to drummers and singers at a memorial in front of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School after the remains of 215 children, some as young as three years old, were located at the site last week, in Kamloops.

‘What we do want, is an apology, a public apology, not just for us but for the world … holding the Catholic Church to account’

By Tyler Dawson

The chief of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation has called upon the Catholic Church to issue a public apology for residential schools and for the order that ran the residential school in Kamloops, B.C., to release all of its records.

“What we do want, is an apology, a public apology, not just for us but for the world … holding the Catholic Church to account. There has never been an apology from the Roman Catholics,” said Rosanne Casimir, chief of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation, on Friday, just over a week after the preliminary discovery of 215 unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.

In the days since the announcement, “our nation has been consciously, collectively grappling with the heart-wrenching truth brought to light by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc,” Casimir said in her first press conference, held over Zoom, since the discovery was announced.

Casimir said it was too soon to answer technical questions regarding the research itself or the costs and details of the preliminary findings, though reporters were told there would be weekly briefings. Instead, she thanked people for the outpouring of support and mentioned meetings the nation had held with B.C. Premier John Horgan and Carolyn Bennett, the federal Crown-Indigenous relations minister.

This is only the beginning

“This is only the beginning,” Casimir said. “We have a lot of work to do together. While the reality is shocking and we feel some level of anger, it is time to be gentle with ourselves and with each other.”

Casimir also took a moment to clarify a major piece of misinformation circulated by some media. “This is not a mass grave, but rather unmarked burial sites that are, to our knowledge, also undocumented. These are preliminary findings,” she said.

Last Thursday, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation said the use of ground-penetrating radar had revealed “an unthinkable loss that was spoken about but never documented.”

“We had a knowing in our community that we were able to verify. To our knowledge, these missing children are undocumented deaths,” said Casimir said in a news release. “Some were as young as three years old.”

Official records kept by the Department of Indian Affairs, and recorded by the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, show that 51 students died at the Kamloops school while it was in operation, from a wide array of causes: drowning, tuberculosis, food poisoning and sleeping sickness.

Overall the Truth and Reconciliation Commission estimated more than 6,000 deaths at residential schools across the country; the last closed in Saskatchewan in 1996. Murray Sinclair, a former senator and the chair of the commission, told CBC Radio that he believes the total could be as high as 25,000 dead, and called for an inquiry into all possible burial sites.“I suspect, quite frankly, that every school had a burial site,” Sinclair said.

The Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a Catholic missionary order, ran the school in Kamloops; it operated as a residential school between 1890 and 1969 before being taken over by the federal government and ran as a residence for nearby day schools until its closure in 1978.

An historic photograph of the Kamloops Indian Residential School, the largest of Canada’s 130 residential schools. Ground-penetrating radar has found 215 unmarked graves on the former school property.
An historic photograph of the Kamloops Indian Residential School, the largest of Canada’s 130 residential schools. Ground-penetrating radar has found 215 unmarked graves on the former school property.

Casimir called on the order to release all of its records regarding the Kamloops school. Father Ken Thorson, with the OMI, said the order has already sent its archives to the Royal British Columbia Museum, but it is looking through other records to see if there is further valuable information.

Casimir noted that there was a “large discrepancy” between the number of dead previously identified through their records and what ground-penetrating radar has found.

“I don’t know if our records will shed further light on this discrepancy, but I’d hope it will, in service to the Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc, in their search for clarity and understanding regarding the discovery in Kamloops last week,” Thorson said in a statement.

In the days since, there has been an outpouring of grief across the country and otherwise stalled or neglected acts of reconciliation, suddenly, became front of agenda.A school board in Calgary immediately moved to change the name of a school affiliated with one of the architects of the residential school program; the Senate created a national holiday in September; and many wore orange to commemorate those who died at the residential school.

The former Kamloops Indian Residential School where the discovery of the remains of 215 children in a mass grave became world news. China’s Communist Party has not been silent about it.
The former Kamloops Indian Residential School where the discovery of the remains of 215 children in a mass grave became world news. China’s Communist Party has not been silent about it.

Meanwhile, in Kamloops, the work continued.

The researcher, who has not spoken publicly, has continued the work of analyzing the ground-penetrating radar data; the nation says this preliminary work will be done by the end of June.

Ground-penetrating radar is technology used in archaeology, often to explore historic graveyards, that shows differences in soil beneath the surface; it doesn’t map underground, but rather shows changes that can be analyzed further to draw conclusions about what’s been found.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and B.C. Coroners Office have been contacted and are involved, though in what capacity remains unclear, both having deferred to the leadership of the First Nation, which noted the historically fraught relationship between police and Indigenous people in Friday’s press conference.

Asked whether the former Kamloops Indian Residential School should be torn down, Casimir said the First Nation believes it should remain standing.

“It is a very huge piece of history that we do not want to be forgotten.”

Complete Article HERE!

No longer ‘the disappeared’: Mourning the 215 children found in a mass grave at Kamloops Indian Residential School

People across Canada, including this scene in Edmonton, have left shoes and candles at public displays in recognition of the discovery of children’s remains at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

By

A macabre part of Canada’s hidden history made headlines last week after ground-penetrating radar located the remains of 215 First Nations children in a mass unmarked grave on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.

Like 150,000 Indigenous children that were taken from their families and nations and placed in residential schools, the 215 bodies of children, some as young as three, located in Tk’emlúps were part of a larger colonial program to liquidate Indigenous nations of their histories, culture and foreclose on any future. To do this, Canada put into motion a system to “kill the Indian in the child.”

This system often killed the child.

While we currently have no evidence to determine the cause of death for each child, we know that they died a political death — these children were the disappeared.

Colonial population management projects

The chilling discovery in Tk’emlúps reminds us of the larger project of aggressive assimilation.

Indian Residential Schools were centres for state-directed violence against Indigenous nations, where the children — the heirs of Indigenous nations — were programmatically stripped of their Indianness.

Indigenous lives were broken down, sterilized of any trace of the gifts inherited from their parents and ancestors and re-packaged into Canadian bodies.

The brute nation-making scheme of the Canadian state looked to the existing infrastructure laid down by the prominent Christian churches. The churches were involved in population management almost from the moment of contact between European Crowns and Indigenous nations. The Catholic Church, which would go on to operate about 60 per cent of these schools, was a hawkish occupier.

Like branch plants in a vast production scheme, the state made good use of the extensive church network to co-ordinate the extraction of raw material—Indigenous children.

But the revelation of a mass disposal site for children — unrecorded and hidden — on the grounds of the Kamloops Indian Residential School tells us that the regulation of Indigenous life extended into death.

A black and white photo of dozens of Indigenous boys and girls lined up in front of the school while a row of church and school officials sit in the front of the picture.
A 1937 photograph of the Kamloops Indian Residential School.

The politics of death and mourning

A fact many Indigenous people understand is that life’s benefits and burdens are shot through the colonial prism. As we go through life, we quickly learn that the weight of history’s finger is pressing firmly on the scale.

What is often overlooked is how that uneven distribution in life carries on through death.

Just as in life, how Indigenous death is mourned and remembered has been a matter of political control. The Canadian state, in partnership with the churches, has long unilaterally assumed sovereignty over Indigenous mortality and bereavement.

Nowhere is this more apparent than the atrocity at Tk’emlúps which has sharpened this for many Indigenous nations, as we see how the Catholic church not only denied these children the capacity to shape the means of and choose the ends of their life, but also they denied their communities control over their death.

In Tk’emlúps, the Catholic church decided that neither their lives nor their deaths were worthy of being known, remembered and commemorated.

Woman stands holding candle that reads '215' crowd of grieving people wearing orange stand behind her
Through Indian Residential Schools, Canada put into motion a system to ‘kill the Indian in the child.’

One of the more appalling acts by the Catholic church in Tk’emlúps was how the children were deliberately forgotten; they were omitted from the official records that would verify their passing.

Documentation of death may seem clinical and lacking the human touch, but for some it has become crucial to contemporary remembrance. It is one way, of many culturally divergent methods, of confirming death and allowing the dead to have a social afterlife with the living. The painful void that lingers is what researcher Pauline Boss called ambiguous loss, “a loss that remains unclear because there is no death certificate or official verification of loss; there is no resolution, no closure.”

The memory of the person and their remains may strike us as two separate matters, but they are intimately connected in many cultures.

Not unlike Catholicism, the material body figures centrally amongst many Indigenous rites and ceremonies that cultivate social continuity with the dead. Matthew Engelke, who studies the anthropology of death, tells us that:

“(W)hat commemoration often involves is much more than remembering the dead. It requires a serious engagement with the things that ghosts and ancestors want: a proper burial, a pot of beer, a feast, money, a fitting grave-stone, the blood of a reindeer, the blood of kin.”

The truth about the disappeared

The truth about the atrocity at Tk’emlúps escaped examination during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). In the weeks before the TRC launched in 2008, the Catholic church was confronted with the allegations of a mass grave. Back then, the church denied any knowledge.

Until their remains were recently located, the Catholic church was content to leave 215 children as ‘disappeared.’

The disappeared — those that have been secretly disposed — produce a unique grieving. They leave families and communities in a state of suspended mourning, never sure whether their loved one is alive or dead, or where their remains have been left.

It is life abandoned to death with no chance of the living to intervene.

Now that they have been located, the surviving families, communities and Nations can begin to think about custodianship of the remains, mourning and memorialization. That much is up to them and every support and resource ought to be provided.

Complete Article HERE!