Be vulnerable and examine Catholic Church’s residential school past, Manitoba pastor urges

Parishioners, Flin Flon pastor say more work to be done for reconciliation after discovery of unmarked graves

Father Paul Bringleson is pastor at St. Ann’s Parish in Flin Flon, Man. He says parishoners should be able to put questions to leaders in the Roman Catholic Church about its role in running Canada’s residential schools.

By Renée Lilley

Some Manitoba Catholics are calling on church leadership to atone for their wrongs in light of the discovery of unmarked graves on the sites of some former Indian Residential Schools in Canada.

Father Paul Bringleson, the pastor of St. Ann’s Roman Catholic Church in Flin Flon, thinks the Roman Catholic Church needs to take a back seat and truly listen to survivors.

“Take off your robes, your shoes, and your rings and your crosses. Sit yourself in a chair. And listen,” he said in a sermon on June 6, days after the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation reported the discovery of what are believed to be 215 unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.

“It is not for us to tell Indigenous Peoples, ‘it’s time to move on.’ You don’t tell a victim when their suffering is over. You sit with that pain.”

Bringleson’s sermon drew national attention when it was published in full by Maclean’s magazine.

In the weeks following his sermon, other First Nations announced they too had found what are believed to unmarked graves, including 751 on Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan and another 182 near St. Eugene’s Mission School outside Cranbrook, B.C.

Bringleson says Catholics should be able to put questions to the church’s leadership and get decent answers. Instead, leaders are often bogged down in other issues like gay marriage, he says.

“If two men want to get married in Canada, every bishop in the country is writing a letter about it. But these graves being uncovered, and our role in it, which needs to be examined and looked at, it’s not a quick fix,” he said in an interview with CBC Manitoba’s Information Radio last Monday.

“Nobody wants to remain vulnerable. Especially in the church, the clergy has safety in holy orders. It makes it very difficult to want to be vulnerable with people. It’s not our first instinct, and yet that’s where we need to be.”

Pope Francis speaks from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter’s Square at The Vatican on June 6, 2021. Pope Francis will meet with Indigenous leaders later this year but has not offered an official apology for the abuse suffered by students at Canada’s residential schools, many of which were run by the Roman Catholic Church.

There have been calls for the Catholic Church to formally apologize to Indigenous Canadians for the abuse committed through the residential school system, which was run by the federal government and contracted out to Christian denominations. More than 60 per cent of the schools were run by the Roman Catholic Church.

The United, Presbyterian and Anglican churches have apologized for their roles in the residential school system, as has the Canadian government, which has offered compensation.

There have been some localized apologies from individual Catholic orders. Pope Francis will meet with Indigenous leaders later this year and expressed his “pain” after the discovery of the graves in Kamloops.

However, neither the Pope nor the Vatican have offered an official apology.

‘This, I cannot condone’: parishoner

Linda Ducharme, a Métis Catholic, said after the discovery of the unmarked graves, she won’t go back to her Catholic church in St. Ambroise, Man., until the Pope apologizes.

“I refuse to support the Catholic church until the church apologizes for its part and asks for forgiveness,” she said.

“I’m a devout Christian. I turned to the Catholic church because it’s the only one here. But this, I cannot condone.”

Ducharme says she cried for days, not only for the children forced to attend residential school children, but also for their parents. Neither had a voice, she says.

“They took those little kids, put them in these enclosed spaces, like pig farming and chicken farming today. All crowded in there, not properly fed or cared for.

“A lot of them probably died from disease too, but the way they treated the bodies — they didn’t let the parents know, they just wrapped them in a blanket and buried them. That is so disrespectful and so wrong.”

The statue of Queen Victoria on the Manitoba Legislature grounds lies with its head removed after being topped on Canada Day.

That feeling was evident on Canada Day — a day marked by mourning for many, but also visible anger, including the toppling of statues at the Manitoba Legislature grounds in Winnipeg.

Some Catholic churches across the country have also been vandalized or burned.

Ducharme says that’s not the way to accomplish anything.

“I do not agree with the burning of the churches. That doesn’t help anybody. It doesn’t solve the problem. We know you’re mad, but going out and being destructive doesn’t solve anything.”

However, Ducharme says she has lost her sense of patriotism for the usually celebratory holiday.

“It sure doesn’t make you proud to be a Canadian. And I used to be so proud to be Canadian,” she said.

This year, “even if I wasn’t busy moving my daughter, we wouldn’t have celebrated. My heart was with them.”

Gordon Elijah Mackintosh, a practising Catholic in Winnipeg, also hopes the church will recognize its wrongs.

Gordon Elijah Mackintosh wants the Catholic church to take responsibility for the wrongs of residential schools in Canada.

“I was getting really upset over the news coming out. I’ve been going to church my whole life, and I just felt like I needed to say something,” said Mackintosh, 31.

He’s disappointed in the silence from many in the Catholic community.

“Considering one of the main sacraments is reconciliation and being forgiven, I think they really need to show the Indigenous community and really everyone that they mean what they say,” he said.

Truth, acceptance necessary for change

In terms of reconciliation, the churches and government have a lot of work to do, says Sean Carleton, an assistant professor of history and Indigenous studies at the University of Manitoba.

Churches should be transparent with historical records that many churches held back, he says, and making all of them available immediately is a good first step.

“One thing that is very clear, coming out of the TRC [Truth and Reconciliation Commission] — if Canadians are really serious about reconciliation, we have to have truth first. Truth before reconciliation.”

In terms of Canada’s role in the residential school system, Carleton stresses the need for the entire country to face the effects of its history.

Sean Carleton, an assistant professor of history and Indigenous studies at the University of Manitoba, says the intergenerational trauma of residential schools is still affecting Indigenous people in Canada today.

“Canadians are having a hard time and are struggling with the fact that it’s not a historical problem. I don’t think people really understand the intergenerational effects this really has for Indigenous people today,” he said.

“There are pockets of multiculturalism and tolerance, but there is also ongoing oppression, genocide. And that’s something that is coming to the fore.”

Complete Article HERE!

Pope Agrees to Meet With Indigenous Groups From Canada About Schools

Canada’s Indigenous communities have long sought a papal apology for the church’s role in a system of forced assimilation at schools where abuse and disease were widespread.

A memorial for the 215 children whose remains were discovered in May near the Kamloops Indian Residential School, in Kamloops, British Columbia.

By Ian Austen and Vjosa Isai

Pope Francis will meet with Indigenous leaders later this year to discuss coming to Canada to apologize for the church’s role in operating schools that abused and forcibly assimilated generations of Indigenous children, a step toward resolving the grievances of survivors and Indigenous communities, the head of Canada’s largest Indigenous organization said on Wednesday.

In a statement, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops said that the pope will meet separately at the Vatican with the representatives of Canada’s three biggest Indigenous groups — the First Nations, the Métis and the Inuit — during a four-day series of meetings in December that will culminate in a joint session with all three.

“Pope Francis is deeply committed to hearing directly from Indigenous Peoples, expressing his heartfelt closeness, addressing the impact of colonization and the role of the Church in the residential school system,” the bishops wrote.

Canada’s Indigenous leaders have long called for a papal apology for the church’s role in the residential schools, a government-created system that operated for about 113 years and that a National Truth and Reconciliation Commission called “cultural genocide.”

Those calls have intensified since May, following announcements by three Indigenous communities that ground penetrating radar has revealed many hundreds of unmarked graves containing human remains, mostly of children, at the sites of former schools in British Columbia and Saskatchewan. While both disease and violence were widespread at the schools, the scans offer no information about how the children died.

Catholic orders ran about 70 percent of the schools on behalf of the government. Despite a direct plea from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2017, the pope has consistently refused to apologize for the church.

Three Protestant denominations that also ran residential schools apologized long ago and contributed millions of dollars to settle in 2005 a class-action suit brought by former students.

The Catholic Church, however, has since raised less than four million Canadian dollars, or $3.2 million, of its 25 million dollar share of the settlement.

The delegation of Indigenous leaders will push the question of compensation at the Vatican meetings, said Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Canada’s largest Indigenous organization. However, their focus will be on persuading the pope to come to Canada to apologize.

“The Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church, they’ve made apologies to the Irish people, they made apologies to the Indigenous people of Bolivia,” Chief Bellegarde told a news conference. “So I think the spirit will move in the appropriate way at the appropriate time.”

The news of the Vatican meeting came as the third Canadian Indigenous community announced on Wednesday that it had found 182 human remains near a former school for Indigenous children run by the Catholic church.

At the St. Eugene’s Mission School, located in British Columbia on the land of a First Nation which renders its name as ʔaq’am, Indigenous leaders said that a search that started last year has found 182 unmarked graves, some of them just three to four feet deep.

Pope Francis will meet with Indigenous leaders at the Vatican in December.

Chief Bellegarde said that the Indigenous groups had been trying for two years to schedule this meeting with the pope. But he said that it remains unclear which, if any, of their requests that the pope will agree to.

“There are no guarantees of any kind of apology or anything coming forward, there’s no guarantee that he’ll even come back to Canada,” Chief Bellegarde said. “But we have to make the attempt and we have to seize the opportunity.”

A national Truth and Reconciliation Commission found that physical, mental and sexual abuse were common at the schools, which operated for over 100 years, starting in the late 19th century. Many of the schools were overcrowded, their children afflicted by disease and, in some cases, malnutrition. All of them rigorously, and sometimes violently, enforced prohibitions on Indigenous languages and cultural practices.

In May, Canadians were shocked to learn that ground penetrating radar had revealed the remains of 215 people, mostly children, near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia.

Last week the shock was compounded after a First Nation in Saskatchewan said that the technology had found 751 remains at the site of a former school on its land.

The St. Eugene’s Mission School, where the discovery of remains was announced on Wednesday, was operated between 1890 and 1969 by Catholic orders, including the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.

In a statement released Wednesday, the Lower Kootenay Band said the remains likely belonged to people from the bands of Ktunaxa Nation — of which it is a member — and other neighboring Indigenous communities.

The search, which is continuing, was organized by the ?aq’am First Nation, which informed Chief Jason Louie of the Lower Kootenay Band about its initial findings last week. After making the discovery public on Wednesday, Chief Louie said that he is less interested in a papal apology than criminal charges being brought against members of the church involved in running the school.

“We’re beyond apologies, we need to talk about accountability,” he said. “If Nazi war criminals can be tried at an elderly age for their war crimes, I think we should be tracking down the living survivors of the church — being the priests and the nuns — who had a hand in this.”

Complete Article HERE!

Children as cargo

Flight attendant recalls airplanes full of Indigenous students bound for residential schools, saying she ‘always knew’ something was off. After the discovery of 215 children’s remains, ‘now I know why’

By: Niigaan Sinclair

Sharon Gray still cries when she remembers it, nearly 60 years later.

“In the early 1960s, I was a flight attendant that took children to and from residential school,” she says.

The cabin of a DC-4: ‘All of the children cried at some point during the flight and most threw up,’ Gray recalls. (Supplied)</p>
The cabin of a DC-4: ‘All of the children cried at some point during the flight and most threw up,’ Gray recalls.

Gray, who lives in Winnipeg, worked on Pacific Western Airlines flights for 14 years. In those days most passengers were either wealthy vacationers or business travellers.

On most flights, she served people who looked forward to reaching their destinations.

There is one trip that has never left her mind.

Starting in the 1950s, churches began to contract Canadian airlines to transport Indigenous children to residential schools.

Some purchased and operated their own planes, such as the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, who ran the Kamloops residential school where hundreds of children’s bodies were discovered buried in unmarked graves last month.

A restored Douglas DC-4 in Yellowknife: aircraft like this one were pressed into service shuttling children to residential schools. (Ed Araquel photo)</p>
A restored Douglas DC-4 in Yellowknife: aircraft like this one were pressed into service shuttling children to residential schools.

One Oblate missionary named William Leising spent his entire life flying to Indigenous communities, picking up children and delivering them to residential schools in Manitoba, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.

He called his plane the “flying school bus.”

On some flights, seats would be removed to pack in as many children as possible. To save costs, the churches labelled children as “freight.”

For Indigenous children, travelling to residential school was a nervous, uncertain and, often, traumatic experience, especially if they knew what awaited them.

Gray was on one of those flights, escorting about 50 Inuit children to residential school in Inuvik, N.W.T.

“It was a long, difficult flight on a DC-4 airplane,” she recalls. “All of the children cried at some point during the flight and most threw up. One even vomited on me. We ran out of sick bags.”

Gray tried her best to do her job.

“I talked to two little girls who couldn’t stop crying, trying to convince them they were going to a good school, because I thought the Catholics had good teachers.”

A sign at a memorial outside the Kamloops Residential School in Kamloops, B.C., where the remains of 215 children were found in unmarked graves. (Jonathan Hayward / The Canadian Press files)</p>
A sign at a memorial outside the Kamloops Residential School in Kamloops, B.C., where the remains of 215 children were found in unmarked graves.

Gray remembers giving them cookies to make them feel better.

“Then they told me they missed their families,” she says.

Months later, she heard that some of the children had tried to escape from the school; getting home would have been an impossible journey.

Now, a half-century later, and in the wake of the Kamloops discovery and others across Canada, she feels it’s so important to talk about her experience in order to understand what she was a part of.

‘I always knew there was something more to what I witnessed,” she tells me, “and now I know why.”

The role of aviation in the story of residential schools is not well known. It is, however, an essential part; planes were the primary means of transportation to some schools, especially in the North.

In many Indigenous communities, the arrival of a plane signalled the imminent removal of children. The opening scene of the 1989 CBC TV movie Where the Spirit Lives, created from stories told by residential school survivors, begins with a plane arriving in a Kainai community, flown by a pilot who then tricks the children into boarding.

The film over-dramatizes events; pilots didn’t need tricks, because Canada’s laws and the RCMP forced parents to send their children to the schools.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission documented some of the role aviation played in the residential school system but had a difficult time finding pilots, flight attendants and other airline workers to participate in hearings.

The commissioners also had difficulty obtaining flight manifests, passenger lists and purchase agreements between the churches and airlines because of privacy and jurisdictional arguments.

In some cases, owners and employees died, documents were lost and airlines had gone out of business. As a result, there’s an incomplete picture of the involvement of one of Canada’s most important industries and everyone in it.

Telling this story now is a task that has been taken up by the new Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada, which will debut in a new building near the Winnipeg’s Richardson International Airport early next year.

Overseen by Indigenous and Canadian researchers (I know, because I am one of them), the museum has committed to document and display the stories of aviation’s role in the residential schools system.

This week, museum curator Davide Montebruno reached out to Sharon Gray to tell her story. And the museum is inviting others to visit its website to share theirs, too.

“This is a big part of reconciliation,” Montebruno says. “We must tell the truth of what happened, no matter how uncomfortable it can be, so we can act different as a community.”

The hope is that Winnipeg’s newest museum can help Canadians understand how the airline industry participated in the country’s most genocidal policy.

Gray says she accepted Montebruno’s invitation.

“I could do nothing at that time,” she says. “But I can now.”

Complete Article HERE!

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.

By

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!