'We need to deal honestly with the past': Regina Archdiocese apologizes for role in residential schools
The Archdiocese of Regina has issued an apology for its role in residential schools and committed to fulfilling its “moral obligation” by supporting Indigenous communities as they work to search the sites of former schools.
In a statement shared on the Archdiocese website, it said it operated the Marieval Indian Residential School on the Cowessess First Nation, the Lebret Indian Industrial Residential School on the White Calf First Nation, the Muscowequan Residential School on the Muskowekwan First Nation, and the St. Philip’s Residential School on the Keeseekoose First Nation.
“We are profoundly sorry for the hurt that actions and decisions of our church in the past have caused to Indigenous Peoples and in ways that we presently re-traumatize by our actions and inactions,” Donald Bolen, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Regina said in the statement. “We have heard and acknowledged that apologies are not an endpoint but a starting point, and are learning how to walk in solidarity.”
The apology follows growing demands from Indigenous communities and allies to search the sites of former residential schools, after the discovery of 215 children found buried in unmarked graves at the Kamloops Indian Residential School.
The statement acknowledged the 35 unmarked graves discovered at the site of the Muscowequan Residential School, and identified the need to search the other schools run by the Regina Archdiocese.
“There are cemeteries at these schools as well,” Bolen said.
SOME SAY APOLOGY IS ‘HARD TO ACCEPT’
Some Indigenous organizations said the apology is hard to accept because the impact of past decisions continue today.
"So when you're reading in the paper about gang murders, when you are reading Indigenous young people committing suicide, families with domestic violence, these are all impacts today. It's not happening in the past. So it's hard to accept the apology that says it happened in the past when things are still going on in the present," Delora Parisian, executive director at Eagle Heart Centre, said.
The Eagle Heart Centre helps about 500 families that have been impacted by residential schools in some way. Parisian says the centre has received a lot of calls from people who want to talk to someone after the 215 children were found at the Kamloops residential school.
Parisian said the Catholic system is something that may need to be rethought.
"Maybe that needs to be under review. Is it working for our people? Certainly not. Is it working for all the children that were abused under that priesthood?" she said. "It's a harsh statement to make, but so is finding 215 children buried in unnamed graves."
Margaret Kisikawpiyesis, CEO of CAAN – an organization that assists Indigenous people living with HIV/AIDS and other transmissible diseases – believes the Archdiocese needs to reconcile by itself.
"It's time the churches sit back and (realize) they no longer control us. They no longer are a part of our solution – they can't be – but they can deal with their own truth and reconciliation that has to happen for their institution to be able to move forward," Kisikawpiyesis said.
Kisikawpiyesis's father attended Gordon's Residential School in Punnichy, Saskatchewan for three years and was sexually abused repeatedly. She wonders if the people who were involved in these acts will take responsibility for their actions.
"Some of the priests and nuns that were a part of the sexual abuse and the abuse that went on at these schools are still alive. Are they answering to what they did to the children?” Kisikawpiyesis said.
"Within our own ways as Indigenous people, if you took a life, you have to answer to that."
Kisikawpiyesis said she hopes that Indigenous people can start to heal and teach their children the languages, Indigenous laws and other teachings that were destroyed through the residential school system.
"It's important that we keep talking about it and remembering what has happened on this land. Canada has wronged (Indigenous people), churches have wronged Indigenous people, so we need to make things right."
EXPERIENCE AT LEBRET RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL
Fred Gordon attended Lebret Indian Industrial Residential School from 1944 to 1951. Gordon says he was kidnapped when he was nine years old and taken to the school.
During his experience at the school, Gordon said he spent his time "living in fear."
Gordon says he was sexually abused by a nun while at Lebret, and was left deaf in one ear and blind in his left eye because of the abuse he endured.
"I used to have to run away during the night to get away from that nun," he said.
Gordon said he saw "terrible things" while at the school.
"There was a father, Father Roberto, you looked in that priest's eyes and you saw nothing, there was no emotion, no nothing there," Gordon said. "And he used to come into the dormitories... and I'd see him take a kid out to go and abuse him somewhere in the school."
He added that the school was across the lake from a seminary and that it was "common practice" for the priests to come over and abuse the children.
If you are a former residential school student in distress, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419
Additional mental-health support and resources for Indigenous people are available here.
With files from CTVNews.ca's Brooklyn Neustaeter.