Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

The former Kamloops Indian Residential School, left, in an aerial view on Tk'emlups te Secwepemc land, in Kamloops, B.C., on Sept. 11, 2023.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

Vancouver’s Catholic archdiocese is marking Easter with a commitment towards reconciliation with First Nations in B.C., Archbishop J. Michael Miller says.

The church and the chief of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc announced Thursday that a “Sacred Covenant” agreement has been reached between the church and the First Nation in Kamloops, B.C.

The covenant comes three years after the First Nation in Kamloops, B.C., announced the discovery of what it believed were the remains of more than 200 children at the site of a former residential school.

Miller said the agreement with the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc will open a “new chapter” in the relationship between the church and First Nations in B.C.

“Unquestionably, the church was wrong in implementing a government colonialist policy which resulted in devastation for many children, families and communities. We recognize as Catholics, as the Catholic Church, our part in the resulting tragedies,” Miller said.

The covenant is set to be signed on Easter Sunday, “a special time of hope and renewal,” Miller said.

“Easter Sunday is the ideal time to help start a new chapter in First Nation and Catholic relations in our province,” he said. “Our hope and our prayer is that by taking this next step, we will build on our relationship, a relationship already established but still young, and be an example to Canadian society of respecting the identity and the experience of Indigenous Peoples.”

Chief Rosanne Casimir of Tk’emlups te Secwepemc said the covenant will see the church share records and information as the nation continues to investigate the site of a former Kamloops Indian Residential School where hundreds of children went missing.

Casimir said the agreement is crucial to learning the truth about what happened to the missing children, and access to the church’s historical records will help “bring justice to the children who never made it home.”

“We seek to memorialize the missing children. We also seek meaningful ways to support survivors and intergenerational survivors on their healing journey so that they and their future generations may thrive,” she said.

The nation announced in May 2021 that a search around the former school site using ground-penetrating radar found 200 potential unmarked burial sites.

Since then, First Nations across the country have conducted searches and made similar discoveries.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission identified at least 6,000 deaths at residential schools during their time in operation in Canada between the late 1800s and 1996.

In many of the deaths, schools didn’t record the children’s names, genders or cause of death.

The children in the schools were separated from their families and forbidden to speak their own language. They were undernourished and often experienced physical and sexual abuse.

The agreement includes commitments from the church on how to properly memorialize residential school survivors, information sharing about missing children and offering “healing services” to family members of those who attended the school.

Casimir said the possible excavation of the Kamloops school site has not begun as it’s a “very sensitive step moving forward,” that involves work with other nations, survivors and their families.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe