The head of the Catholic Church in B.C. has promised that all church archives and records will be given to the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation as the band tries to identify the remains of children the band said were found buried near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.
Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Miller said on Wednesday (June 2) that the church will be “fully transparent with our archives and records regarding all residential schools, and strongly urge all other Catholic and government organizations to do the same.”
He added that the church will also offer technological and professional support “to help the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc and other affected Nations in whatever way they choose to honour, retrieve and remember their deceased children.”
On May 27, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc reported that the unmarked graves of 215 children — some as young as three — had been found in a field close to the old school, using ground-penetrating radar.
The residential school was operated by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate from the 1890s until 1969, at which time the federal government assumed administration of the school until it closed in 1977.
The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate is a congregation of the Catholic Church.
In a statement on Twitter, Miller wrote: “I wish to apologize sincerely and profoundly to the survivors and their 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. The Church was unquestionably wrong in implementing a government colonialist policy which resulted in devastation for children, families and communities.”
Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, academic director at the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre at UBC, said key narrative documents from the Kamloops Indian Residential School had not been provided to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
“The churches handed over most [residential school] records, but in a few cases, the narratives were withheld, notably at Kamloops and St. Anne’s [in Ontario],” Turpel-Lafond said.
Former students of St. Anne’s have been in court with the federal government since 2013 as they seek compensation for abuses suffered.
“The schools’ narrative document is missing,” Turpel-Lafond said. “These narratives are prepared for all schools and include key pieces of information about the running of the school, notable dates, lists of principals, school attendance yearly and if there were key cases of abuse against staff or students at the school.”
Turpel-Lafond said the majority of school narrative documents had been provided to the centre, adding she hopes Miller’s statement was a “moment of significant action or reversal of position.”