Residential Schools

Frequently Asked Questions regarding Residential Schools

The discovery of children’s remains at the former residential school in Kamloops, B.C. in June 2021 reopened a painful wound for many across this land. It identified the need for all Canadians to learn more about our history, the role of residential schools as part of that journey, and to seek the truth regarding all those who suffered and continue to do so to this day.

The abuse of Indigenous peoples is a dark chapter in the history of Canada and of the Catholic Church. While the Church has cared for and served Indigenous people in many ways, it is undeniable that some members of the Church undermined the dignity of First Nations peoples. There is clear evidence that much of this abuse occurred at residential schools, which were largely operated by several different Christian denominations at the request of government.

This FAQ is intended to provide some context and address some frequently asked questions about this important issue. We must all join in the collective efforts on the path to healing and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

FAQ regarding Residential Schools

The discovery of 215 unmarked graves in late May 2021 will require further investigation to help seek the truth of who these children were, how they died and how they were buried so far from home. The school was built and initially operated by the federal government, opening in 1890. In 1892, the federal government asked a Catholic order, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, to take over operations, which they did until 1969. The federal government resumed operation of the school from 1969 until its closure in 1979. The religious order issued an Apology to the First Nations of Canada by the Oblate Conference of Canada in 1991 in addition to paying settlements to residential school survivors. An excerpt of the apology reads as follows:

“We wish to apologize in a very particular way for the instances of physical and sexual abuse that occurred in those schools…Far from attempting to defend or rationalize these cases of abuse in any way, we wish to state publicly that we acknowledge they were inexcusable, intolerable and a betrayal of trust in one of its most serious forms. We deeply and very specifically, apologize to every victim of such abuse and we seek help in searching for means to bring about healing.”

Father Ken Thorson, current Superior of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, has reached out to the Tk'emlups te Secwépemc Chief Rosanne Casimir to offer assistance and to express sympathies following the discovery of the remains of 215 children on the grounds of the former school. Father Thorson communicated that records from the Kamloops Indian Residential School are with the Royal British Columbia Museum, and has indicated the order will assist in sharing any information regarding records from this and other locations where the order operated schools. Among the groups of dioceses and religious communities that operated residential schools, there is a spirit of cooperation with Indigenous peoples with regards to personal records and information relating to the former schools. At the same time, there are also privacy rights, especially of Indigenous peoples who attended these schools, which need to be taken into consideration on a case by case basis.
There is no such national entity as the Catholic Church “of Canada.” Each Catholic diocese and religious order is an independent legal entity. Despite their independence, in 1991, Canada’s Catholic Bishops, along with leaders of men and women religious communities, together issued a statement that “We are sorry and deeply regret the pain, suffering and alienation that so many experienced” at residential schools. Approximately 16 out of the 70 Roman Catholic dioceses in Canada were associated with the former residential schools, in addition to about three dozen out of over one hundred Catholic institutes (commonly referred to as religious orders.) Each diocese and institute is corporately and legally responsible for its own actions. Many of the dioceses or orders who operated schools have offered apologies, dating back to the early 1990s. In recent years, many bishops throughout Canada have offered statements and introduced other initiatives to continue our ongoing path to truth and reconciliation. A listing of some of the numerous apologies and other resources can be found at: www.cccb.ca/indigenous-peoples/indian-residential-schools-and-trc/ In culmination, Pope Francis apologized multiple times in Alberta, Quebec and Nunavut during his July 2022 penitential visit 'Walking Together.' The Pope’s visit provided a unique opportunity for him, once again, to listen and dialogue with Indigenous Peoples, to express his heartfelt closeness and to address the impact of colonization and the participation of the Catholic Church in the operation of residential schools throughout Canada.
There were 15 residential schools in Alberta. Two of them – Ermineskin and Youville – were within the current boundaries of the Archdiocese. The Archdiocese of Edmonton (historically the Diocese of St. Albert) did not operate residential schools. Schools in the region were run by religious orders, primarily the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, the Sisters of Providence and the Sisters of the Assumption. More information can be found on this information sheet. We share the collective grief and sorrow as the result of any representative of the Catholic Church inflicting pain or abuse on any individual, especially vulnerable children.
Yes. In 2009, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Phil Fontaine, along with other Indigenous representatives, had a moving encounter at the Vatican with Pope Benedict XVI, who acknowledged the pain and hardship associated with residential schools, and expressed deep regret at the suffering of those who are still living with the effects of their experiences at the schools. The Holy Father met with individual Indigenous delegations the week of March 28, 2022, and a historic final audience with all participants will took place on Friday, April 1, 2022, culminating with Pope Francis' promise to personally visit and apologize on Canadian soil. The Catholic Church continues to work alongside and with Indigenous communities in order to foster an ongoing culture of reconciliation. There have been, and continue to be, numerous initiatives by Catholic dioceses, institutes and organizations throughout Canada to assist and support the ongoing healing and reconciliation journey.
Pope Francis accepted an invitation from the Bishops of Canada to visit Canada for a pilgrimage of healing and reconciliation with our Indigenous sisters and brothers. The Holy Father has released a statement: press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/it/bollettino/pubblico/2021/10/27/0699/01486.html. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops released an accompanying statement: www.cccb.ca/media-release/canadian-bishops-to-welcome-pope-francis-to-canada-on-historic-pilgrimage-of-healing-and-reconciliation/ The papal visit built on three years of constructive dialogue between the Canadian Bishops, the Vatican, and Indigenous Peoples who have generously shared their experiences and stories about the suffering and challenges that continue to this day. The Holy Father’s announcement wa in response to the expectations expressed by the Bishops during the last meeting of the Plenary Assembly. The Holy Father was moved by the profound desire of the Bishops of Canada and the Indigenous Peoples that he come to Canada on a pilgrimage of healing and reconciliation, thanks to a joint delegation to Rome that took place in March 2022, where Pope Francis heard directly from Indigenous Peoples on the historical and ongoing legacy of residential schools, as well as their hopes and desires for his visit to Canada. Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith was a part of the joint delegation. The promise was realized when Pope Francis visited Canada in Alberta, Quebec and Nunavut to 'Walk Together' and apologize in July 2022.
The Catholic entities that operated residential schools were part of the 2006 Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement (IRSSA). The Holy See and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops were never involved in running the former schools. The “Roman Catholic Entities” named as parties in the IRSSA were legally deemed to have fulfilled the requirements of the settlement agreement by a judicial review. Following the review, the former Conservative government released the entities from further obligations – a decision which the present Liberal government did not appeal. The 50 or so individual entities which signed the IRSSA paid:

i. $29 million in cash (less legal costs);

ii. more than the required $25 million of “in-kind” contributions; and

iii. an additional $3.7 million from a “best efforts” campaign.

Those same entities, together with other dioceses, institutes and national Catholic organizations, continue to be involved in efforts across the country to provide in-kind contributions, which go well beyond the scope of the Indian Residential School Agreement.

Truth & Reconciliation Commission

The TRC released in 2012 a report called They Came for the Children, signed by commissioners Justice Murray Sinclair, Chief Wilton Littlechild, and Marie Wilson. Work continued until June 2, 2015 when four days of special events and ceremonies in Ottawa were capped with the release of the TRC Summary Report. The commission had examined in detail the legacy of the Indian Residential Schools in Canada and issued 94 “Calls to Action” aimed at healing and nurturing the relationship between indigenous peoples and other Canadians. Full details of the Commission’s work can be found at https://nctr.ca/records/reports/.

The schools were funded by the federal government and operated in most cases by churches or religious communities. The Corporation of Catholic Entities Party to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement (CEPIRSS) represents 17 dioceses and 37 religious institutes involved in managing and helping to operate the schools on behalf of the Government of Canada.

Calls to Action recommended to Churches by the TRC will be on the agenda of the next Plenary Assembly of the Catholic Bishops of Canada, set for September 14-18. “We are committed to ensuring that the Calls to Action will be given careful hearing and full discussion,” the statement says. “We are confident they will be carefully considered, and in this process we know we can count on the collaboration of the Canadian Catholic Aboriginal Council.”

Archbishop Gerard Pettipas of Grouard-McLennan, President of the CEPIRSS

“I want to express our appreciation to the Commissioners who have worked tirelessly to lead us all in a very searching examination of conscience in regard to a painful period in our history. The Commission has now presented all Canadians with Calls to Action. … On behalf of Catholic entities, I receive these challenges and encourage others in our community to do so as well. In the next few months, I will be presenting these Calls to Action to all of the Bishops of Canada and to the Canadian Religious Conference as direction posts and milestones on the way to a reconciled future…”

Joint Church Statement

A joint statement was also issued on behalf of The Anglican Church of Canada, The Presbyterian Church in Canada, the Roman Catholic Entities Parties to the Settlement Agreement, The United Church of Canada, and the Jesuits of English Canada. “We are grateful to the survivors, whose courageous witness has touched the heart of the life of our churches. There have been apologies from our churches, yet we know that our apologies are not enough. And so we are grateful as well to the Commissioners of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for their findings and for their clarity about our continuing responsibilities….”

Rev. Ken Forster OMI, Former Provincial of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Lacombe Province

Father Ken preached on reconcilation during his homily on Trinity Sunday. “…These evil acts of ours, whether done intentionally or unintentionally, as well as sins of omission, failing to do the good, need the healing forgiveness of the Creator and the forgiveness of First Nations. Today we pray that we non-aboriginals own the truth of the injury caused by ourselves and by the unjust system of a dominant colonial society that continues today. Let us own our sin and repent! …”

Earlier Public Statements at TRC event in Edmonton, March 2014


Map of historical Catholic-run residential schools and diocese jurisdictions (1871 to present)

This map does not include schools run by non-Catholic churches such as Anglican, Presbyterian, United, etc.: ONLY the Catholic-run residential schools in Alberta recognized by NCTR are listed here. 

To use this map, select ONE FILTER AT A TIME, then view each school for info when it was active.

Residential school colours on map:

  • Blue (OMI/Grey Nuns)
  • Green (OMI/Sisters of Providence)
  • Yellow (OMI/Sisters of Assumption)

Timeline:

  • September 22, 1871 – Diocese of Saint Albert (erected)
  • July 3, 1901 – Vicariate Apostolic of Athabaska (split)
  • November 30, 1912 – Diocese of Calgary (erected)
  • November 30, 1912 – Archdiocese of Edmonton (elevated)
  • *March 25, 1927 – Vicariate Apostolic of Grouard (name change)
  • July 17, 1948 – Diocese of St. Paul (erected)
  • July 13, 1967 – Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan (elevated)
  • May 12, 1970 –  Diocese of Saint Paul (land added, from Diocese of McKenzie-Fort Smith)

Information sheet on Indian Residential Schools in Alberta

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