The Catholic religious order that operated residential schools in Saskatchewan and British Columbia, where hundreds of anonymous graves have been found, said it would release all historical documents in its possession.
The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate operated 48 schools in Canada, including the Marieval Indian Residential School at Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan and the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia.
“We remain deeply sorry for our involvement in the residential schools and the damage they caused to Indigenous peoples and communities,” a statement said.
Indigenous leaders and others have called for the release of all documents related to the residential schools.
The Cowessess First Nation said Thursday that ground-penetrating radar showed 751 unmarked graves at its school site. Last month, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation said the same technology detected what are believed to be the remains of 215 children at the Kamloops school.
In the statement, the Oblates said they have worked to make historical documents available through universities, archives and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
They said the job was not finished due to complications with provincial and national privacy laws. They sought advice from organizations familiar with these laws.
Reverend Ken Thorson, provincial leader of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) Lacombe Canada, said they will have a meeting next week at the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation in Winnipeg, where they will further discuss the matter.
“We have operated 48 schools for many years, so the records number in the tens of thousands,” Thorson said in an interview Friday.
“What percentage of the documents have been handed over, I can’t say at this point… but we hope to get a better idea of that in the coming weeks. “
He said the Oblates want to balance the needs of indigenous communities with privacy rights.
“(Indigenous communities) have a need and a right to their history, and at least part of their history is contained in our records,” Thorson said. “We want to make sure they have as much access as we can possibly give them.”
Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme and the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations also alleged that representatives of the Catholic Church had removed headstones and other headstones from the school site in the years 1960.
Delorme added in Thursday’s announcement that removing a tombstone without authorization is a crime in Canada.
Thorson said he was unaware that the tombstones had been removed and that if the church had ordered it, “it would be inexcusable.”
He said he had asked their archivist to research information on these allegations.
Delorme did not say whether the RCMP had been contacted to investigate historic crimes committed at the school.
The Saskatchewan RCMP said they were working with the leadership of the Cowessess First Nation to “determine if or how they want the RCMP involved”.
“Our actions must be respectful of the immense grief the people of the Cowessess First Nation continue to suffer,” the RCMP said in a statement Friday.
“We know that we have applied racist and discriminatory laws and policies. “
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on June 25, 2021.
– With files from Kelly Geraldine Malone in Winnipeg
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version referred to the religious order as the Missionary of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. The proper name is, in fact, The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate