Canadian Bishops establish Indigenous Reconciliation Fund
By Lisa Zengarini
Following their $30 million financial pledge to support healing and reconciliation initiatives for residential school survivors, their families, and communities, the Canadian Bishops have announced the establishment of an Indigenous Reconciliation Fund which will accept contributions granted to this end by the 73 dioceses across the country.
Transparency and good governance
The fund will be managed by a new registered charity, which will include Indigenous members, to ensure transparency and good governance. It is expected to publish annual reports and will be subject to an audit by an independent accounting firm each year.
“The Bishops of Canada are fully committed to addressing the historical and ongoing trauma caused by the residential school system,” said Bishop Raymond Poisson, President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB). “In moving forward with our collective financial commitment, we will continue to be guided by the experience and wisdom of Indigenous peoples across the country”.
Healing and reconciliation
According to a statement by the CCCB, funds collected are intended primarily for healing and reconciliation for communities and families; culture and language revitalization; education and community building; and dialogues for promoting indigenous spirituality and culture.
Regional and/or Diocesan Granting Committees will be established to identify projects that further the fund’s priorities, review applications, and request funds to support such projects. These committees will include Indigenous and Catholic membership and Bishops recommend that they be chaired by local Indigenous partners.
The residential school system
Residential schools were compulsory boarding schools funded by the Canadian government and run by Church institutions during the 19th and 20th centuries with the aim of assimilating indigenous youth into Euro-Canadian culture.
However, the schools disrupted lives and communities and many children suffered neglect and abuse causing long-term problems among Indigenous peoples. Overall, some 150,000 First Nation, Inuit, and Métis children were forced to attend these schools between the 1870s and 1997.
Since the last school closed, former students have demanded recognition and compensation, resulting in the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement in 2007 and a formal public apology by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2008.
A seven-year inquiry by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) concluded in 2015 that over 4,000 children died while attending these schools, many due to abuse, negligence, or disease.
The Bishops' formal apology
The discovery of hundreds of remains and unmarked graves on the grounds of three former Catholic-run residential schools during the summer of 2021 has drawn new public attention to this tragedy, and in September Bishops issued a formal statement of apology and pledged $30 million dollars (CDN) to support the healing and reconciliation process. Pope Francis, too, has joined the Bishops in expressing closeness to the victims. An indigenous delegation was expected to meet the Pope in the Vatican in December 2021, but the visit was postponed due to COVID-19.
In their statement last week, the Canadian Bishops recognized the shortcomings of the previous Catholic fundraising campaign tied to the 2007 Indian Residential School Settlement and pledged that the new Indigenous Reconciliation Fund will be well managed, with appropriate oversight.