Canada’s govt, religious, indigenous leaders differ over residential schools issue

A resident attends a memorial event for the 215 children whose remains have been found buried at a former Kamloops residential school outside Vancouver Art Gallery in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, May 29, 2021. (Photo by Liang Sen/Xinhua/IANS)

Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Toronto, Thomas Collins said that the comments by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about the Catholic Church’s involvement in the residential school system were unfair.

“I think it’s much more helpful, as we’re all working on this long journey of reconciliation to work together, not to be making these kinds of unfair attacks upon those who are trying their best to bring about and to work with all the indigenous people for reconciliation,” Xinhua news agency quoted the Archbishop as saying to CTV on Sunday.

On May 28, Canada’s Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation announced the discovery of the remains of 215 indigenous children buried in a former indigenous residential school in Kamloops city.

The school was operated by the Catholic Church from 1890 to 1969.

The announcement has sparked nationwide outrage and grief in Canada and has led to mounting calls for the Trudeau government and the Catholic Church to investigate more potential school burial sites.

Trudeau urged the Catholic Church on June 4 to “take responsibility for its role in the residential school system”.

“As a Catholic, I am deeply disappointed by the decision that the Catholic Church has taken now and over the past many years.”

However, Collin said he thinks “it might also be good for the government to realize they’re asking us to improve the way we’re responding to this great tragedy”.

“We’re trying, we’re making great progress, but we’ve got a long way to go always. I think the prime minister should look to his own government. They also have many things to do.

“The Indigenous people, the bishops and the whole Church in Canada have been working together on a pathway of reconciliation,” Collin added.

He agreed that any Catholic organisation should release all records they have and said that the church doesn’t have anything to hide.

“To suggest that the Catholic Church or the bishops or the Vatican or somebody is trying to hide documents is just unfair.”

While Pope Francis did not apologize on Sunday, Collins said an apology “may very well be something that will be on the path ahead”.

Earlier on Sunday, Pope Francis said he was pained by the news about the former school for the indigenous students and called for respect for the rights and cultures of the indigenous.

But he stopped short of a direct apology that some Canadians had demanded.

“We’re all pained and saddened. Who isn’t? This is a worldwide travesty,” Bobby Cameron, chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations in Saskatchewan.

“How hard is it for the Pope to say: ‘I’m very sorry for the way our organization treated the First Nations people, the First Nations students during those times. We are sorry. We pray,” Cameron said.

Between 1831 and 1996, Canada’s residential school system forcibly separated about 150,000 children from their homes, with many subjected to abuse, rape and malnutrition.

Most schools were run by the Catholic Church and the Canadian government.

The Canadian government has announced a C$27 million funding to assist indigenous communities to locate more indigenous children who died at residential schools in the country.

At a press conference here on Wednesday, Canadian Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said the government earmarked some C$33 million in its 2019 budget to implement the burial-related recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, reports Xinhua news agency.

Little of that money has been spent so far, with C$27 million still available to help Indigenous communities find and commemorate lost children.

Bennett said the money will be distributed on an urgent basis in partnership with Canada’s National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation and Indigenous communities.

Last week, the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation in Kamloops city announced that it had discovered the remains of 215 children buried at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.

Following the discovery, indigenous leaders, residential school survivors, and opposition parties have called for the government to fund the research and excavation of all sites of former residential schools for unmarked graves in the country.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier pledged his government’s support to help in preserving gravesites and uncovering potentially more unmarked burial grounds at other former residential schools.

But he stressed the need for Indigenous communities to decide for themselves how they want to proceed.

The UN Human Rights Office urged Canada on Wednesday to do all it can to find the Indigenous children that died at residential schools, calling for an “exhaustive investigation” to uncover the remains of former students that may have been left in unmarked graves.

Marta Hurtado, a spokesperson for the UN body, said the Canadian government must “redouble its efforts to find the whereabouts of missing children” in the wake of a preliminary investigation at the former Kamloops Residential School that revealed 215 children were buried on the grounds.

“Remains should be identified and forensic studies carried out to ensure proper identification of remains. Without this, healing is not possible,” Hurtado said in a statement.

The UN said the shocking and painful Kamloops discovery should inspire Canada to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action, which included a section on missing children and burial information.

In their landmark 2015 report, the Commission called for the establishment of a student death registry and an online registry of residential school cemeteries, among other recommendations to help communities document lost loved ones.

Hurtado said Canada must improve its residential school-related record-keeping to give families and Indigenous communities better access to documents relating to missing and deceased family members.

In 2015, the final report issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on residential schools concluded that what happened constituted a cultural genocide.

The comprehensive and extensive findings detail the inhumane mistreatment inflicted on Indigenous children who were taken from their families and sent to one of the more than 130 institutions across the country.

The last school closed in 1996.

The commission’s register of confirmed deaths identified 3,200 students but work is still ongoing to uncover what are believed to be thousands more deaths that went undocumented.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that his government will take further actions in response to the discovery of the remains of 215 children in a former residential school in Kamloops city.

Amid calls for accountability and to go beyond lowering flags at federal buildings, Trudeau told the media on Monda that Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal will discuss what role his government should be playing in response to the development, reports Xinhua news agency.

On May 24, the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation in Kamloops city, British Columbia, announced that ground-penetrating radar uncovered the remains of 215 children at the Kamloops Indian Residential School.

The horrific discovery prompted calls for a national day of mourning and saw people across Canada set up memorials.

“As a dad, I can’t imagine what it would feel like to have my kids taken away from me, and as prime minister, I am appalled by the shameful policy that stole Indigenous children from their communities,” said Trudeau.

“We promised concrete action, and that’s how we’ll support survivors, families, and Indigenous peoples.

“Sadly, this is not an exception or an isolated incident. We’re not going to hide from that. We have to acknowledge the truth. Residential schools were a reality, a tragedy that existed here, in our country, and we have to own up to it,” the Prime Minister added.

Opposition MPs urged the Trudeau government to fully fund the investigation of other former residential school sites and to put more sustainable funding towards healing initiatives.

Green Party Leader Annamie Paul said the terrible discovery once again highlights “the absolute genocidal tragedy of our residential school system”, calling on the Trudeau government to demand the Catholic church apologise for its role in the residential school system.

In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued its final report on the inhumane mistreatment inflicted on Indigenous children at residential schools, concluding that they constituted a cultural genocide.

The Commission’s register of confirmed deaths identified 3,200 students but work is still ongoing to uncover what could be thousands of more deaths that went undocumented.

More than 150,000 indigenous children were reportedly forced into residential schools between the 1870s and 1996.

The last residential school closed in 1996.

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