A small group visits a makeshift memorial on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in Kamloops, B.C., last month. About 200 unmarked graves were found at the site in May using ground-penetrating radar. CNS photo/Jennifer Gauthier, Reuters

Fundraising plans gaining momentum

By 
  • July 28, 2021

Even as ordinary Canadian Catholics and dioceses roll out plans to raise money and recommit to reconciliation, Indigenous Catholic Deacon Michael Robinson continues to feel the community anger over residential schools.

“I’ve actually had death threats from people whom I thought were friends,” Robinson told The Catholic Register. “Threats that if they ever see me walking down the street they’re going to rip my (Roman) collar off, rip the shirt off my back. These are people who are a few generations disconnected from the residential schools era…. These are people that I’ve danced with. These are people that I have gone to powwows with.”

Robinson has known neglected cemeteries and unmarked graves would be found ever since his own involvement in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)hearings in Thunder Bay 10 years ago. He predicts many more will be found as First Nations in Ontario ramp up searches.

“I know we’re going to have at least a few thousands of these graves to be identified,” he said. “Along with that, hopefully there’s some kind of documentation that will help show the world that it wasn’t done in secret. It was just the times. People weren’t able to travel back then.”

Robinson says he feels the pain of the discoveries as much as anyone, but he believes reconciliation is vital.

“In the face of it all, I’m still pushing a positive message that reconciliation can happen,” he said. “At the local level, I’m trying to calm the waters…. Emotions are just so raw right now.”

Meanwhile provincial Catholic fundraising efforts, combined with recommitments to the 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, are coming together across the country.

In British Columbia, the Archdiocese of Vancouver and the Dioceses of Kamloops, Nelson, Prince George and Victoria have announced a province-wide appeal to fund healing and reconciliation projects in partnership with Indigenous people.In a July 26 statement, the bishops said they wanted to “restore trust and further the ongoing journey to reconciliation.”

The Diocese of Calgary announced July 16 it will be part of “a forthcoming local/regional financial appeal.” Alberta was home to 25 residential schools. Four of them were operated within the boundaries of the Calgary diocese by the Oblate Missionaries of Mary Immaculate.

Saskatchewan’s bishops began taking donations for their province-wide appeal July 13.

The Archdiocese of Toronto has committed to a fundraising campaign that may yet embrace the rest of Ontario.

“There are ongoing discussions with other Ontario dioceses to explore any opportunities for collaboration,” Archdiocese of Toronto spokesperson Neil MacCarthy told The Catholic Register.

A lay-led, online appeal by the Catholics for Truth and Reconciliation group is also underway at www.catholics4tr.ca.

In New Brunswick, Canada’s first Indigenous Lieutenant Governor, Graydon Nicholas, is part of a group seeking reconciliation on a personal and spiritual level.

“We’ve had a talking circle with our parish priest and our bishop here in St. John,” Nicholas said.

He expects the group will continue meeting in September.

“All the elements of the truth have to come out. There’s still a lot of information that the general public, especially those of us in our Catholic faith, don’t have,” Nicholas told The Catholic Register.

Fundraising and face-to-face encounters between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Catholics could set the table for a papal apology on Canadian soil, according to Nicholas.

“All that is a precursor for, I think, an apology that people want in our country by the Pope,” he said.

Deacon Robinson in Thunder Bay also looks forward to a papal apology on Canadian soil as required by TRC’s Call to Action 58.

“It doesn’t seem like these apologies (by Catholic entities that ran residential schools) are holding too much water until the Pope steps up and says sorry on behalf of the Church as a whole,” he said. “It’s going to be a hard road, for sure, to get there.”

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