Advocates shocked by Catholic list claiming $28M of 'in-kind' help for residential school survivors

Questions are being raised about the Catholic Church's claim it provided $28 million worth of "in-kind" compensation to residential school survivors.

CBC News obtained Catholic log claiming bible study, parish staffing as part of compensation

CBC News has obtained a ledger revealing details of the Catholic Church's $25-million worth of in-kind compensation to residential school survivors. Critics say many items are designed to convert Indigenous people rather than allow them to restore their own culture and spirituality. (Gerald Herbert/The Associated Press)

Questions are being raised about the Catholic Church's claim it provided $28 million worth of "in-kind" compensation to residential school survivors.

CBC News has obtained the log detailing the in-kind claims for dozens of Canadian Catholic entities party to the landmark 2005 Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement (IRSSA).

Survivors and advocates interviewed say they're shocked, as many of the listed services are nothing more than attempts to evangelize and convert Indigenous people.

The list includes bible-study programs, placement of priests and nuns in remote northern communities, services under the frequently used label of "religiosity" and religious-document translation.

"It's distressing to see this. This is ordinary church religious work repackaged as in-kind services and reconciliation. This is not legitimate," said Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, a former judge and director of the University of British Columbia's Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre.

Some of the items include several hundred thousands of dollars for an Ottawa scholarship program for Indigenous students and support for a Regina drop-in centre for mainly Indigenous women and children.

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, a former Saskatchewan provincial court judge and director of UBC's Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre, said the vast majority of $25 million claimed by the Catholic Church as an in-kind service to survivors is 'not legitimate.' (Mike McArthur/CBC)

But Turpel-Lafond and others say millions more are questionable and some contradict the spirit of reconciliation. The following contributions are among those made between 2007 and 2010, according to the log:

  • $696,000, by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith, for community work and presence in the Northwest Territories by religious sisters and fathers.
  • $600,000, by the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation of James Bay, for community work and presence by persons ministering in three communities in northern Ontario, in addition to work that can be classified as "religiosity."
  • $540,000, by the Sisters of Instruction of the Child Jesus, for community work and presence in First Nations reserves and urban environments in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and B.C. by religious sisters. A variety of services was offered in addition to work that can be classified as "religiosity."
  • $465,150, by Les Oeuvres Oblates de l'Ontario, for community work and presence by pastors.
  • $360,000, by Les Résidences Oblates de Québec, for translation of Jewish and Christian scriptures into Innu.
  • $263,900, by the Missionary Oblates of Grandin, for a biblical studies program in Alberta; university courses offered by a team that explore culture and faith, God's love, social justice, women in scripture, sexuality, hope, healing, etc.
  • $256,800, by OMI St. Peter's Province, for community work and presence in two Mi'kmaq communities in Nova Scotia by a pastor and one assistant.

When asked for comment, Regina-based lawyer James Ehmann, who has represented various Catholic entities in court matters over the years, said he can no longer speak for them. The corporation formed by the churches to oversee the 2005 deal has since been dissolved.

Ehmann noted in an email that the Catholic Church's claims were evaluated by a committee that included members from Catholic entities, the federal government and the Assembly of First Nations. It's unclear whether that committee approved the items in the document obtained by CBC News.

Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation elder A.J. Felix says the Catholic Church and other groups should disclose every document in their possession related to the residential school system immediately. He says Indigenous people should be given the resources to heal themselves. (Jason Warick/CBC)

Residential school survivor and Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation Elder A.J. Felix said these claims should have been flagged and rejected — and Catholic officials should have known it was wrong to even make them.

"Because of the misery that we had, the hardship that we had, the violence that we experienced, the sadness and the deaths that we went through, somebody has to be accountable," Felix said.

The in-kind services were one of three promises made by the Catholic Church entities in the IRSSA. They also promised to give "best efforts" to raise $25 million for support programs, though stopped after raising less than $4 million, and they promised to contribute a lump $29-million cash payment, but came up millions short.

Previously obtained documents detailed millions spent on lawyers, administration and other unapproved expenses.

The Church has repeatedly declined to provide details of the $25-million promise of in-kind services, other than to state publicly that the amount was exceeded.

Earlier this week, bishops from across Canada issued an apology to residential school survivors and promised a renewed $30-million fundraising campaign to provide support programs and other initiatives.

Felix, Turpel-Lafond and others say while it appeared the Catholic Church was taking some steps forward, the latest revelations show the truth is still being hidden — and those gestures are not enough.

"We've had apologies before. If it took money to destroy us, to destroy our way of life, it's going to take money to rebuild what we've lost. Our plan is to regain what we lost," Felix said.


Jason Warick


Jason Warick is a reporter with CBC Saskatoon.