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23 June 2021

The Sisters of Saint Ann and our involvement with the Kamloops Indian Residential School

It has been said that time heals all wounds. The truth is that time does not heal anything. It merely passes. It is what we do during the passing of time that helps or hinders the healing process.

Jay Marshall

The recent discovery of 215 unmarked graves near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School adds fresh agony to the decades of trauma endured by Canada’s Indigenous peoples at the hands of those charged with a responsibility of care towards them. The discovery shocked the nation, as well as countries around the world.

The Sisters of Saint Ann have a long history of commitment to the education of children everywhere, for their personal and spiritual development, their career opportunities, and their citizenship outreach. Years ago, with profound sorrow and regret, we came to realize that some of the teaching positions accepted by the Sisters of Saint Ann in British Columbia were part of a system that was destructive for the very children the Sisters intended to serve. These positions were at four “Indian Residential Schools.” Kamloops was one of them.

History now shows that the entire federal school system for Indigenous children was conceived with racism and discrimination and was built on systemic violence to Indigenous families and culture. This is a moment of great darkness as we struggle to find a way forward together. We continue to carry immense sorrow for having contributed to this tragedy, a sorrow that is lodged within our own hearts.

Please read the “Statement on behalf of congregations of women religious involved in the Indian Residential Schools of Canada”. It captures something of what we wish to say today, during this new moment of facing up to the past with eyes and hearts set on the present and the future.

On Wednesday, June 23, 2021, the Royal BC Museum (RBCM) and the Sisters of Saint Ann announced the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding regarding the Archives of the Sisters of Saint Ann.

Questions and Answers

Who are the Sisters of Saint Ann?

The Sisters of Saint Ann are members of a Roman Catholic religious community of women, founded by Blessed Marie-Anne Blondin in Vaudreuil, Quebec in 1850. The first four sisters in British Columbia arrived in Victoria in1858. Today, there are two “provinces” of Sisters of Saint Ann in Canada, one in the United States and one in Haiti.

Were the Sisters of Saint Ann involved in Indian Residential Schools in Canada?

Yes. Years after their arrival in British Columbia, sisters began accepting teaching positions in schools for Indigenous children, some of which became residential schools. Sisters of Saint Ann taught in Kamloops Indian Residential School from 1890 to 1970. We were also involved in three other Indian Residential Schools.

What have the Sisters of Saint Ann said about their participation in the Indian Residential School system in Canada?

As linked to above, the Sisters of Saint Ann in British Columbia expressed their sorrow and regret in a statement in 2009, a statement that was re-issued at a Truth and Reconciliation national event in Vancouver in 2013.

It reads in part: “We now know that the residential school system itself, initiated by the Federal Government and in which we participated, was racist and discriminatory. It brought about a form of cultural oppression and personal shame that has had a lasting effect not only on those who attended the schools but also on subsequent generations. We carry immense sorrow for having contributed to this tragedy, a sorrow that stays within our hearts.”

215 graves were discovered in Kamloops, but documents submitted to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission indicate 51 deaths occurring at the Kamloops Indian Residential School. Can you explain this discrepancy?

No, we cannot. This discrepancy must be resolved.

Will the Sisters of Saint Ann release more of their records to help identify the remains found?

We are working with the Royal BC Museum and its partners to help ensure that Indigenous communities have priority access to Indian Residential School and associated records. We also want to ensure that our records, and the processes regarding access to our records, are fully transparent.

The Sisters of Saint Ann provided all our records related to Indian Residential Schools to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2012 and most of these records were transferred to the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR). We are now working to resolve any outstanding issues related to those documents and we are also working to make our records more accessible directly from our Archives, instead of only through the NCTR.

We are committed to full cooperation as Indigenous communities and others seek information about Kamloops Indian Residential School, so that questions regarding these graves can be resolved to the satisfaction and the benefit of everyone concerned; but most importantly, for the families who grieve their loved ones.