Indigenous boys pray on bunk beds in a dormitory at the Bishop Horden Memorial School, a residential school in Moose Factory, Ont., in 1950. CNS photo/Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre, Handout via Reuters

Renewed effort for reconciliation funds

  • July 15, 2021

A renewed effort is underway to make up for the failed Catholic “best efforts” campaign to raise $25 million for healing and reconciliation projects across Canada.

Saskatchewan’s bishops officially launched a province-wide fundraising campaign July 13. An announcement involving dioceses in the rest of Canada is expected soon after. That includes Toronto, Canada’s largest archdiocese, which is in discussions with other dioceses to determine “how to best engage in a renewed financial effort to meet the goal of the $25 million,” it says on its website.

“The Catholic Church must continue to atone for our involvement in this dark history,” Cardinal Thomas Collins, Archbishop of Toronto, said in a July 9 letter to the faithful.

The failed Catholic “best efforts” campaign of 2008-2013 — called Moving Forward Together — for healing and reconciliation projects was part of the 2006 Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement (IRSSA) and raised only $3.7 million. It is a story about the failure of Catholics and their leaders to respond to their role in the federal government’s scheme to erase Indigenous culture and assimilate Indigenous children into white society, said Grouard-McLennan Archbishop Gerard Pettipas.

“This was not seen as an issue that was felt equally among the bishops,” he said. “There were those of us who were signatories to IRSSA and those who were not.”

Pettipas believes a more national and unified Catholic response is now necessary.

“The reality is that we are independent corporations. That’s true,” he said. “Does that mean that it’s impossible for us to work together as a bishops’ conference?”

With the bishops and many dioceses insisting on the independence of each diocese and order, 16 dioceses and 32 orders were left to fulfill three legal requirements of the 2006 settlement: $29 million in cash payments primarily owed to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation; $25 million in in-kind services over 10 years the Catholic groups would deliver themselves to Indigenous communities; and $25 million to be raised in a major, national fundraising campaign.

The last of the three streams went so badly that two years into the campaign it was nearly $2 million in the hole.

“We were panicking, recognizing that a capital campaign was about raising money for a building,” recalled Pettipas. “That’s usually what they’re doing, they’re raising money for a building and at the end of the day people can see something that they gave their money towards.”

With the services of KCI Philanthropy running the campaign and a board of Church and Indigenous leaders including recently appointed Governor General Mary Simon and former Assembly of First Nations Chief Phil Fontaine, the “best efforts” campaign was launched into the teeth of the 2008 stock market crash and the Great Recession.

While KCI tried to sign on corporate Canada and large donors, most Canadians, including Catholics, did not know the campaign was going on and didn’t know the history of the schools. When the campaign, in desperation, turned to a pew collection in 2013, only 14 dioceses participated.

Even then, the envelopes hit the pews just a week after Typhoon Haiyan swept through the Philippines. The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace raised over $13 million for rebuilding projects in the Philippines.

In the end, the $3.7 million raised was to go to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. A final $1.2 million payment went to the Indigenous-led Legacy of Hope Foundation.

Pettipas wants to look ahead now that Catholics are fully  aware of what was learned from the hearings and 2015 report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“Over the last month, I would say there has been a much stronger engagement, even of faithful Catholics, faithful Catholics who are upset, very upset. … They expect us to do more.”

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