The Chronicle Herald (Metro)
Calgary Catholics say they’ll pay restitution for residential schools
CALGARY — A descendent of residential school survivors says Calgary Catholics’ pledge to raise restitution funds in recognition of the church’s past is a positive step toward reconciliation.
But Marilyn North Peigan said the gesture comes late, after recommendations of the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission report have been long ignored.
“This should have been done in 2015,” said North Peigan, a reconciliation liaison who’s also running for Ward 7 councillor in the upcoming Calgary civic election. “This is an acknowledgment.”
Late last week, the Calgary Catholic Diocese posted an online statement saying it was prepared to make a financial contribution toward “the ongoing work of justice and healing in our country with the Indigenous Peoples and their communities.”
“Bishop William Mcgrattan has been in consultation with other bishops and diocesan collaborators to be in solidarity with the Indigenous Peoples and their leaders on the next steps in supporting survivors and in addressing the intergenerational harm caused by the Residential Schools.”
The post said the fundraising goal would be revealed in September and didn’t provide details on how the money would be raised.
The Diocese didn’t respond to a request for further comment.
The Catholic church has come under intense criticism for operating many of the 139 residential schools attended by about 150,000 children that operated in Canada under federal government auspices from the late 1800s to 1996.
Those institutions worked to erase First Nations students’ culture — often brutally — with estimates of the number of children who died at the schools exceeding 6,000.
Recently, hundreds of unmarked graves have been detected by ground penetrating radar at the sites of former residential schools in Western Canada.
There were 25 such schools in Alberta and four in Calgary. The local diocese said it didn’t operate those in or near the city, though they were run by a Catholic order.
North Peigan said that in recent years, she and colleagues have had a difficult time accessing some former school sites, some of which are now privately owned, to determine who might be buried there.
“We’ve been denied and gaslighted from the beginning,” she said.
As for financial restitution, North Peigan said more important is concretely confronting the legacies of residential schools and the separation of First Nations children from their parents.
“This has nothing to do with the money, it’s about where we’re going to get healing ... what we are going to do with basic life skills that were taken away by the churches,” she said.
Recently, the Catholic church in Canada has been accused of failing to raise millions of dollars in restitution money for residential school survivors while spending large sums on renovating or building churches.
And while other Christian churches that operated the schools have officially apologized, the Vatican has not,
though Catholic bishops in Alberta have offered contrition.
In a letter he instructed be read at Sunday services earlier this month, Mcgrattan decried the recent burning of churches in Western Canada but said Catholics must do more to affect reconciliation with First Nations.
“As Canadians and members of the Catholic Church we feel this shame and guilt
and are challenged to question if the Church has done enough to correct the wrong in its participation in an unjust system established by the government of Canada,” he stated. “While the calls for apologies continue to be raised, we also hear people say that apologies are not
enough in affecting truth, justice and healing for the oppressed.”