Priest’s statue removed from Saskatchewan cemetery

By 
  • June 25, 2021

Regina Archbishop Donald Bolen is honouring a request made by the Star Blanket Cree Nation to remove the statue of Fr. Joseph Hugonard from the Sacred Heart Catholic cemetery in Lebret, Sask.

Hugonard founded the Lebret Indian Industrial Residential School in 1884. The school was in operation until 1998, and it was helmed by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and the Grey Nuns until the early 1970s.

Star Blanket Chief Michael Starr told CBC News that his community was “communicating with the local parish and the archbishop” and those talks bore fruit as “they’re going to move that statue away, to take it down.”

The archdiocese in a statement said the group of “affected parties, which includes Star Blanket First Nation, the town and the church, have agreed that the statue will be removed.”

It went on to state that “these conversations have been greatly helped by Indigenous members of the parish in Lebret, who have been instrumental in facilitating dialogue.”

On June 21, the statue was officially removed and placed in storage. A key component of the discussions yet to come is determining where the statue goes next. There was an initial inclination to move it to the Lebret Museum, but, according to the Archdiocese of Regina, “there are concerns that the museum’s structure would not be sufficient to bear the weight.”

According to the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN), the Hugonard statue was situated at the entrance of the residential school until 1990, when it transferred to the cemetery.

The FSIN is on board with the removal of the statue.

“The statue of Fr. Hugonard is a reminder of a horrific time for many First Nations People,” said FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron in a June 11 statement. “The statue needs to be removed to ensure our people are not traumatized. This statue is a distasteful representation of the residential school era. In no way should that be commemorated. Acts of genocide were committed against First Nations children at the hands of Church officials.”

On June 18 the Saskatchewan government announced it would provide the FSIN with $2 million to aid its research into undocumented residential school deaths.

Meanwhile in Calgary, there appears to be a strong desire to change the name of Bishop Grandin High School.

Bishop Vital Grandin, the first Bishop of Edmonton (then known as St. Albert diocese) is widely regarded as a chief builder of the residential school system and the Catholic Church itself in Western Canada.

The Calgary Catholic School District (CSSD) invited parents, students, staff and other stakeholders to engage in a survey on the “ThoughtExchange” platform June 4-8. It was revealed that 79 per cent of the close to 1,600 participants agreed the name of the school should be changed.

One of the supporting comments reads that “renaming the school helps to heal,” and that “we should all be committed to fixing the wrongs of the past, and that includes removing triggers for people’s & family’s past traumas.”

A rare comment expressing support for the name remaining claims removing Bishop Grandin as the namesake “does more damage than good.” This commenter also wrote, “let’s not sweep history into the closet. Let it remain public as a lesson into our past. Hiding does not heal. Acknowledgment, with truth, is best.”

The final decision is expected to be announced by CCSD at the end of the month.

Edmonton earlier this month agreed to change the name of the Grandin LRT station and to remove a mural of Grandin displayed in the station.

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