A photo of a Kamloops Residential School survivor and former chief, Archie Charles, is seen in a memorial on the grounds of the former Indian Residential School June 6, 2021. The remains of 215 children, some as young as 3 years old, were found at the site in May in Kamloops, British Columbia. Pope Francis expressed his sorrow at the discovery of the remains at the school, which was run from 1890-1969 by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. CNS photo/Jennifer Gauthier, Reuters

Editorial: Truth brings justice

  • June 10, 2021

“Sorry” is a powerful word, but it is only a start to heal the deep wound inflicted by residential schools.

We know that until the whole truth of the history of residential schools — from governments, the Church, religious orders and all those connected to the schools — is laid bare, true reconciliation cannot be attained.

In the case of the Kamloops Indian Residential school, truth lies within the graves of those 215 children. Every effort must be made to identify the remains and return them to their families. To that end, all records that will aid the investigation must be examined, of course, as with the records at other schools.

Whatever impediments there have been to uncovering the true scope of this tragedy, whatever foot-dragging has gone on over the years, whatever legal entanglements exist — it must all end if we are to do justice to these children and continue to build on the efforts to reconcile with Canada’s Indigenous peoples.

Certainly, there seems to at least be the will for this to happen from many corners.

Pope Francis, speaking in St. Peter’s Square last Sunday, asked governments and Church leaders “to continue to work together with determination to shed light on this sad event and to commit themselves humbly to a path of reconciliation and healing.”

Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Miller vowed to 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.”

The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, which ran the Kamloops schools and had formally apologized for its involvement in 1991, has again expressed its sorrow and “committed to participating in ongoing efforts toward reconciliation for our role in this painful part of our shared history.”

As for the federal government, whose policy of assimilation in the 19th century led to the creation of these schools, they share in the responsibility of reconciliation. It was puzzling to hear the prime minister suggest the Church is not being fully transparent when the government itself was responsible for the destruction of thousands of residential school records.

There can be no more finger-pointing. The truth must be found, the consequences dealt with, the path to healing continued. No one in the Church is trying to excuse its role in the horrific legacy of residential schools. Bishops across Canada have offered formal apologies, and Pope Benedict met personally with Canada’s Indigenous leaders in 2009 to express his sorrow over abuse at the schools.

Catholics, and indeed all Canadians, want a full reckoning on this tragic past, and all efforts must be pointed in that direction — for these lost children and for the future of reconciliation with our first peoples.

As Cardinal Thomas Collins has noted: “The real scandal is when evil festers in the darkness. Once in the open, evil can be rooted out. That must happen. Then new life can begin.”

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