Catholic Church of Montreal > News > Topics > Truth and Reconciliation Commission > Religious Community and Residential Schools: an Example

Religious Community and Residential Schools: an Example

The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI), a Catholic male religious community, arrived in Canada in the early 1840's at the invitation of then Bishop Ignace Bourget of Montreal. As early as 1861, they became involved in aboriginal communities and were also involved in the residential school system. In 1991, the community apologized for their role in this painful episode of Canadian history.

"We apologize for the part that we played in the cultural, ethnic, linguistic, and religious imperialism that was part of the mentality with which the peoples of Europe first met the aboriginal peoples".

The letter (click here to see the letter in full), also reflects the fact that "many of the problems" lived in native communities, "high unemployment, alcoholism, family breakdown, domestic violence, spiraling suicide rates, lack of healthy self-esteem - are not so much the result of personal failure as they are result of centuries of systematic imperialism. "

The community "wish" to recognize "publicly that there instances of individual physical and sexual abuse", while stressing that the "biggest abuse was... that the schools themselves happened."

The OMI indicate that without excusing the faults, history has played an important role in the cause of errors. "The cultural, linguistic, and ethical traditions of Europe were caught up in the naïve belief that they were inherently superior", they write. "These men and women sincerely believed that their vocations and actions were serving both God and the best interests of the Native peoples", they say.

Finally, they want to renew "the commitment made 150 years ago to work with and for Native people." This apology implicates "the promise of conversion to a new way of acting".

A Better Understanding of the Context

Father Jacques Laliberté, OMI (see also the article A Face of History), agreed to answer this difficult question: Why has there been no dialogue, public or private, between members of religious communities and the victims of the residential schools?

"We're getting into the realm of the hypothetical," he said at the outset. "It would take people who have far more superior skills than my own. And there is always the risk that it could degenerate into a confrontation and justifications. "

In his community, for example, priests have given their lives for education and believed they acted in the best interest of the children. "You'll speak about uprooting the children'. They will say: 'Yes, but we wanted the best for them.' The 'but wanted the best' is [now] unacceptable when we understand the consequences that the uprooting caused," said Jacques Laliberté.

"Perhaps we did not have the psychological awareness to assess the truly negative impact that removing these children far from their communities would cause at such a young age. And also to assess not only the impact on these toddlers of being away, but put into a completely different cultural context."

For example, corporal punishment was part of Western culture at that time. "The teachers are white and apply this institutional mode, which is absolutely inconsistent and incomprehensible to the Aboriginal culture. So, beyond the initial uprooting, you fall in an environment where there is physical punishment, with absolutely no link to their universe! It's like a gratuitous violence that comes from nowhere."

Today, there is the challenge to establish an even closer dialogue between survivors and members of religious communities - in a Sharing Circle, for example.  For such a dialogue, the rules should be established early. "We're not here to condemn or to justify; we are not here to argue. We're here to discuss what they have lived through and how we want to live in the future" states Father Laliberté.


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