Vancouver archbishop promises transparency, support after Kamloops discovery

A classroom building of Kamloops Indian Residential School about 1950. (Photo - Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. Library and Archives Canada - (The B.C. Catholic, CCN)

By B.C. Catholic staff

[Vancouver – Canadian Catholic News] – Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Miller June 2 announced a plan to offer increased supports and transparency to First Nations people in the wake of the discovery of an unmarked burial site near a former residential school in Kamloops.

“The Church was unquestionably wrong in implementing a government colonialist policy which resulted in devastation for children, families, and communities,” he said June 2.

The archbishop repeated his commitment to the apology he gave before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2013: “I wish to apologize sincerely and profoundly to the survivors and families, as well as to all those subsequently affected, for the anguish caused by the deplorable conduct of those Catholics who perpetrated mistreatment of any kind in these residential schools.”

Adding that apologies must be followed with concrete actions, today he committed to five “first steps” to support First Nations people and others affected. They are:

  • Being “fully transparent” with archdiocesan archives and records regarding all residential schools and encouraging other Catholic and government organizations to do likewise.
  • Offering and supporting mental health support and counselling for people whose loved ones may be buried at the Kamloops site.
  • Offering assistance with “technological and professional support” to help Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc and other First Nations people affected to honour, retrieve, and remember their children in whatever way they choose.
  • Committing to supporting the same for all Nations where Catholic-run residential schools were located within the historical bounds of the Archdiocese of Vancouver.
  • Renewing efforts to listen to Indigenous people about how best to walk together “along the path of justice.”

“Each time new evidence of a tragedy is revealed, or another victim comes forward, countless wounds are reopened, and I know that you experience renewed suffering,” he said.

“We recognize that there is so much work that remains to be done, yet we hope that, if we persevere in these commitments with humility, we can restore the trust among us that will bring healing.”

Vancouver Archbishop Michael Miller – Statement

Saskatoon Bishop Mark Hagemoen – June 2 Letter

Last week the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation reported the discovery of an estimated 215 bodies in an unmarked grave at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops. Chief Rosanne Casimir said there was a “knowing” in the community that was recently confirmed by ground penetrating radar.

The Kamloops Indian Residential School was opened in 1890 and run by Catholics and the Canadian federal government. The federal government took over administration in 1969 and ran it as a residential building for students at day schools. It was closed in 1978.

Catholic bishops across Canada as well as two religious orders (Oblates and Sisters of St. Ann) have expressed deep sadness over the news.