Residential Schools

Residential schools for Indigenous people in Canada date back to the 1870s. Over 130 residential schools were located across the country, and the last school closed in 1996. These government-funded, church-run schools were set up to eliminate parental involvement in the intellectual, cultural, and spiritual development of Aboriginal children.

During this era, more than 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children were placed in these schools often against their parents’ wishes. Many were forbidden to speak their language and practice their own culture. Separated from their families, students suffered from emotional, physical and sexual abuse in the schools. While there are an estimated 80,000 former students living today, the ongoing impact of residential schools has been felt throughout generations and has contributed to social problems that continue to haunt families, communities, and our country.

Questions and answers about residential schools – a resource for Catholics courtesy of the Archdiocese of Toronto: PDF

Bishop statements / letters related to residential schools

The national Truth and Reconciliation Commission goals were to:

TRC Commissioners lead a procession at the national event held in Saskatoon in June 2012: Chief Wilton Littlechild, Dr. Marie Wilson, and Chief Justice Murray Sinclair.

  • Prepare a complete historical record on the policies and operations of Indian Residential Schools in Canada.
  • Complete a public report including recommendations to the parties of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement – here is a link to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action – PDF
  • Establish a national research centre that will be a lasting resource about the Indian Residential Schools legacy – here is a link to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation

The work of the TRC was highlighted by national gatherings held across the country, including the June 2012 gathering in Saskatoon.


A June 2012 Pastoral Letter by the Catholic Bishops of Saskatchewan:  Bishops’ Pastoral Letter about TRC

Church and community leaders were among those listening to Residential School survivors at the TRC national event in Saskatoon.

On June 11, 2008, the Prime Minister, on behalf of the Government of Canada, delivered a formal apology in the House of Commons to former students, their families, and communities for Canada’s role in the operation of the residential schools: Government of Canada apology

Catholic dioceses and religious orders operated many of the Residential Schools, and Catholics were among those who learned more about the impact of that involvement on children and their families and communities during the TRC process. Catholic leaders have acknowledged and apologized on several occasions for the Catholic Church’s role in Residential Schools, and for the abuse that students suffered: Apologies from Catholic leaders

Catholic Bishops of Canada Sept. 24, 2021: Statement of Apology to Indigenous Peoples of this Land: PDF (English)  / (French)

TRC – Call to Action #58 – Apology from Pope Francis on Canadian soil

Papal Visit 2022 (LINKS)

Pope Francis visited the Indigenous Peoples of Canada July 24-29, 2022 on a “penitential pilgrimage:

July 25, 2022 – Apology in CanadaPope Francis’ message at Maskwacis  (ENGLISH) / (FRENCH)

Overview of Papal Visit, with links to Pope Francis’ messages and homilies while in Canada – Click here

April 1, 2022 –  Pope Francis’ Apology in Rome

Other initiatives:

Diocesan Council of Truth and Reconciliation

As a result of participation in the local TRC process in June 2012, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon has created the Diocesan Council of Truth and Reconciliation (DCTR) – a local dialogue and governing body in the diocese, providing consultation and direction.

The Diocesan Council of Truth and Reconciliation is a sharing and consultative circle of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people providing guidance to the diocese of Saskatoon. It arises out of the promise made at the Saskatchewan Truth and Reconciliation Commission event held in Saskatoon during the summer of 2012.

Mandate of the Diocesan Council of Truth and Reconciliation (DCTR):

“…to provide a forum for listening and sharing, through stories and prayer, to collaborate with the diocese toward building and strengthening relationships, and to support healing from the Indian Residential School experience. Our goal is to help the diocese of Saskatoon to be aware of the many current issues which hinder reconciliation between our cultures and to discern a way forward through education and action, into right relationship in the light of the Gospel.”

Parish Engagement

Elder Ruth Cameron shows a Treaty Six Medal during a Treaty Elders presentation held at Sacred Heart Parish in Davidson, SK, welcomed by parish representative Mary Anne Morrison.

With assistance and advice from the Office of the Treaty Commissioner and the Diocesan Council of Truth and Reconciliation, several parishes in the diocese of Saskatoon are embarking on a path of Truth and Reconciliation. Some have held information evenings, others have participated in a Treaty Elder presentation or have installed a Treaty Six Medal.

An example of a parish project: Treaty Elders Speak at St. Joseph – News article


O God, we praise and thank You for the blessings of life in Canada, from your natural bounty and from the work of human hands. We ask you to open our ears to the truths about our collective history shared with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission  by survivors of residential schools. We ask you to open our minds to the complex and subtle ways that past mistakes, arrogance, misuse of authority, and sinfulness have damaged our social fabric in ways we have barely begun to redress. We ask you to open our hearts that we may continue to listen even when the truth challenges us; that we may understand that we are heirs to a system that has shown itself capable of domination and cruelty, whether or not we personally contributed; that we may commit ourselves in all humility to do what we can and support the efforts of others to restore our ruptured social fabric. Amen.