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.
The national Truth and Reconciliation Commission goals were to:
- 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 https://nctr.ca
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
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 – PDF
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
Calls to Action
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada documented what happened by relying on records held by those who operated and funded the schools, testimony from officials of the institutions that operated the schools, and experiences reported by survivors, their families, communities and anyone personally affected by the residential school experience and its subsequent impacts.
The Commission hoped to guide and inspire First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples and Canadians in a process of truth and healing leading toward reconciliation and renewed relationships based on mutual understanding and respect. As part of that mandate, the Truth and Reconciliation released 94 Calls To Action to address the damage caused by Residential Schools, by colonialism and by racism: Calls to Action – PDF
Reconciliation is an ongoing individual and collective process that will require participation from all those affected by the residential school experience. This includes First Nations, Inuit, and Métis former students, their families, communities, religious groups, former Indian Residential School employees, government, and all the people of Canada.
In response to TRC Call to Action 48, and in response to questions raised on the legal concepts known as “Doctrine of Discovery” and “terra nullius,” four Canadian Catholic organizations representing Bishops, institutes of consecrated life, societies of apostolic life, Indigenous People, and laity issued two documents March 19, 2016. You can find both documents and resource material on the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) website at: Canadian Catholic Church leaders respond to Calls to Action.
As a member of the CCCB justice and peace commission then-Saskatoon Bishop Donald Bolen wrote a reflection on the Catholic response to these particular Calls to Action: ENGLISH/ FRENCH – and he was also interviewed about the documents that were signed by Catholic leaders: Bolen interview March 2016.
Call to Action #58 – Apology from Pope Francis on Canadian soil: In March 2018 the president of the CCCB announced that at this time, Pope Francis would not be coming to Canada to apologize for the Church’s involvement in residential schools. Saskatoon’s new bishop, Bishop Mark Hagemoen, addressed the announcement in a pastoral letter: Bishop calls for ongoing reconciliation efforts.
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.”
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.