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Support Info: If you are a Survivor and need emotional support, a national crisis line is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week: Residential School Survivor Support Line: 1-866-925-4419. Additional Health Support Information: Emotional, cultural, and professional support services are also available to Survivors and their families through the Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program. Services can be accessed on an individual, family, or group basis.” These & regional support phone numbers are found at https://nctr.ca/contact/survivors/ .

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Tuesday, March 29, 2022

'These documents do not belong in Rome'

Oblates to open Rome archives next month for residential school records search | First time a Canadian researcher granted access to Oblates archives in Rome

Survivors await release of residential school archives from Catholic entity

A Catholic entity that ran residential schools in Canada will soon open its archive in Rome, bringing some hope to survivors searching for records. 1:58

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) plans to begin a search as soon as next month in the archives of a Roman Catholic order that ran 48 residential schools in Canada, including the institution in Kamloops, B.C., where last year more than 200 unmarked graves were discovered.

Raymond Frogner, head of archives for the NCTR, will be visiting the Rome archives of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate to review and digitize residential school-related records.

It's the first time any Canadian researcher has been granted access to the Oblate General Archives.

"It's quite a wild card," Frogner said. "We've been told there's correspondence there and other documentation, but we are still a bit in the dark of what is held there."

He said the NCTR is still negotiating with the Oblates to access the personnel files of priests and residential school staff. He said the Oblates are seeking restrictions around records from those members who are still alive.

Frogner said the long-term goal is to have everything open for research, access and use.

The Oblates have so far provided more than 40,000 files to the NCTR through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but the discovery in May 2021 on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School led the order to seek this agreement, said Rev. Ken Thorson, leader of the Oblates in Canada.

Rev. Ken Thorson, leader of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate in Canada, said the order has a significant contribution to make to ensure the truth of the residential school experience is known as part of the healing process. (OMI)

"The Oblates have been moved by the events of the last year," said Thorson, who is based in Ottawa.

"It was my feeling that we should ensure that every document that might be related to the residential school history should be made available."

The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and the Grey Nuns of the Cross ran the former St. Anne's Residential School in Fort Albany, Ont. (Algoma University/Edmund Metatabwin collection)

'These documents do not belong in Rome'

Thorson acknowledged that the Oblates have a significant contribution to make to ensure the truth of the residential school experience is known and to facilitate a deeper understanding of this history as part of the ongoing healing process.

"This is the most important work that I've been given to do as an Oblate leader," he said.

Thorson said the Oblate archives in Rome, which are separate from the Vatican archives, could contain letters from missionaries to religious leaders about their work.

Evelyn Korkmaz, a survivor of the former St. Anne's Residential School, has repeatedly called on the Roman Catholic Church to release all residential school records. (Brian Morris/CBC)

Residential school survivor Evelyn Korkmaz said she is hopeful the agreement between the NCTR and the Oblates will reveal more information about St. Anne's Residential School in Fort Albany, Ont., which the Oblates ran and she attended from 1969 to 1972.

"It's time to open that door of horrors and take a look at what's inside," Korkmaz said.

"These documents do not belong in Rome. They belong here, in Canada."

Records can't have any restrictions, survivor says

Korkmaz says she wants to make sure other Catholic entities, including the Vatican, release all residential school records in their possession, adding that there should be no restrictions on the files.

"We need to know information on priests and brothers or nuns who have passed away," Korkmaz said.

"But we also need to know of the priests or nuns or cardinals, whatever, that are still alive today because those ones are the ones that are continuing to do damage."

Frogner said that records still held by the Oblates in Rome are vital to the work of the NCTR, which was created to be the main repository for the documented history of the residential school system in Canada.

More documents identified in Canada

Frogner said the NCTR has already identified Oblate records held by its archives in Canada, including more than 1,000 boxes held in Alberta. The centre is working to access those records through a separate research agreement with the Catholic entity.

More than 1,000 other files are located at the Société historique de Saint-Boniface in northern Manitoba, while other documentation is held at the Royal B.C. Museum in Victoria and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver, he said.

Before Frogner goes to Rome, an Indigenous delegation from Canada is heading to the Vatican for meetings with Pope Francis.

The delegates are expected to appeal for an official apology from the Pope for the Church's role in running residential schools and press for the disclosure of more records, which they have discussed with the NCTR.

Korkmaz said she would acknowledge a papal apology, but it wouldn't mean much to her because it would be "hollow words."

"I'm more concerned about the documentation than an apology that he's forced to say," Korkmaz said.

"What would mean more to me is bringing those documents back to Canada."

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Canada's Residential Schools

The religious organizations that operated the schools — the Anglican Church of Canada, Presbyterian Church in Canada, United Church of Canada, Jesuits of English Canada and some Catholic groups — in 2015 expressed regret for the “well-documented” abuses. The Catholic Church has never offered an official apology, something that Trudeau and others have repeatedly called for.

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