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The churches speak about residential schools

The Story

For two years, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples has been travelling the country, hearing the stories of Indigenous people. Virtually everywhere they've encountered descriptions of pain and abuse from residential school survivors. Today, however, they're hearing the other side of the story. Leaders from each of the four churches that ran the schools are answering charges of abuse and cultural genocide.

Medium: Radio
Program: The World At Six
Broadcast Date: Nov. 8, 1993
Guests: Georges Erasmus, Adam Exner
Host: Bob Oxley
Reporter: Rick Grant
Duration: 2:03

Did You know?

• Religious instruction and prayer made up a large part of life at a residential school. At the Catholic Qu'Appelle School in Saskatchewan, each day started with a half-hour religious service and ended with prayer. Sundays included a walk to the local parish church, choir and an hour of moral instruction by the principal.

• Church leaders defended the schools by saying they had the best of intentions, and some Indigenous people agreed. In 1975, Dr. Enos Montour, a former residential school student, noted: "The church meant well. They fed and they educated us. It cost them a lot to use their mission money to build those institutions and they kept us alive. I was hungry for four years when I was in there but at least the meals were steady."

• Teachers and other former workers at residential schools have also come forward to dispute claims of pervasive, widespread abuse. Bernice Logan, who taught in Anglican residential schools for four years in the early 1950s, has formed the Association of Former Indian Residential School Workers. On behalf of the association, she writes to governments and media to say that the church has been unfairly targeted.

• The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples was created in 1991 as a response to the Oka crisis of 1990. Co-chaired by George Erasmus, the Commission's mandate was to mend the growing rift between Native and non-Native Canadians.

• One year before this clip, Erasmus abandoned neutrality at a Commission hearing, taking the Catholic Church to task for forcing Indigenous people to abandon their culture, language and traditions.

• Abuse of children at Christian-run boarding schools was not limited to Indigenous residential schools. In 1989, a government inquiry began to investigate allegations of abuse at the Mount Cashel Orphanage in Newfoundland and found evidence of widespread physical and sexual abuse by some members of the Christian brothers who ran it.


A Lost Heritage: Canada's Residential Schools more