July 26, 2021

We haven’t given up! Just tied up with life, and the library is closed, too, at the moment. We’ll continue with our reading and commentary on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Final Report early next week. Hope you’ll be back then!

July 23, 2021

We are prepared to move on now to the next chapter of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Final Report, but also feel it necessary to record how things are going with the reading so far. We were upfront in our first blog post (July 1, 2021) about our academic and pastoral backgrounds. Having pursued multiple degrees in a variety of topics, we bring to the reading of any material we go through a pair of fairly critical minds. There are things we look for: logic in an argument and clear thinking, appropriately used sources, the ability to grasp a broader picture, and to assess things with a sense of historical consciousness. We admit that we find the TRC’s Final Report so far somewhat disappointing on all these fronts, and we think the Indigenous people of this country deserve much better than this. Although we have not given up, and always hope for better, we want to register with readers now what we mean, before we continue our perusal of further chapters of the Final Report. We’ll just speak tonight about the logic and clear thinking item.

So, first, we expect there to be logic to an argument. We have been expected to produce this kind of work in the multiple papers and final dissertations we each have had to write in the course of obtaining our degrees. Had we not done this, we would never have passed our courses. Thinking critically and writing about the results of those thoughts are difficult and demanding tasks, but nothing short of this is satisfactory or helpful, especially when the topic is such a sensitive one, as this one is.

Let’s begin with a statement found in the Introduction to the TRC’s Final Report. Referring to the structure of the history volumes, the following statement is made: “The first section places residential schooling for Indigenous people in historical context and examines the pre-Confederation roots of the Canadian residential school system” (p. 5). “Roots” implies a foundation from which a continuous “tree” grows, or at least a fundamental connection.

Pre-Confederation roots of the Canadian residential school system are indicated in the following statement, also from the Introduction to the Final Report: “When Canada was created as a country in 1867, Canadian churches were already operating a small number of boarding schools for Aboriginal people. As settlement moved westward in the 1870s, Roman Catholic and Protestant missionaries established missions and small boarding schools across the Prairies, in the North, and in British Columbia. Most of these schools received small, per-student grants from the federal government” (Introduction, p. 4). Thus far, the document suggests continuity exists between the pre-Confederation operation of missions and small boarding schools by Roman Catholic and Protestant missionaries (though no specific range of dates is supplied) and Canada’s residential schools post-Confederation. How far back are we meaning?

Following this, in the first chapter of the TRC Final Report, entitled “Colonialism in the Age of Empire,” this general comment is made: “Canada’s residential school system was part of a global imperial process that brought states and Christian churches together in a complex and powerful fashion. The men and women who established the schools celebrated this link between their work and the growth of European empires” (Chapter 1, p. 9). In the context, it appears the “proof” of the celebratory sentiment noted in this latter sentence lies in the 1933 comment of an Anglican missionary related earlier in the paragraph. The Final Report continues: “The spread of those empires, the modern age of imperialism, was set in motion in the fifteenth century when the voyages of maritime explorers revealed potential sources of new wealth to the monarchs of Europe” (Chapter 1, p. 10). It now appears that the pre-Confederation period will extend through almost four centuries.

It is unclear to us what the Final Report is trying to indicate with its limited discussion of this very lengthy pre-Confederation period. On the one hand, it acknowledges the difference between the French and the British approaches to the Aboriginal people they encountered when coming here, and the reason why:  “In comparing the French and English in North America, one group of Iroquois observed in 1754 that if one were to look at the forts established by the French, ‘you will see that the land beneath his walls is still hunting ground, having fixed himself in those places we frequent, only to supply our wants; whilst the English, on the contrary, no sooner get possession of a country than the game is forced to leave it; the trees fall down before them, the earth becomes bare, and we find among them hardly wherewithal to shelter us when the night falls.’ The statement highlights the reasons not only for co-operating with the French, but also for resisting the English” (Chapter 1, pp. 13-14). Despite this noted difference in relationship, the Final Report lumps together five hundred years of history as though no distinctions are to be made, drawing this conclusion: “The Canadian residential school experience is part of the history of imperialism of the past 500 years” (Chapter 1, p 23). This is much, much too general a statement to make, especially since the Final Report has just pointed out vast differences between French and British approaches.

While there are any number of strands that could be explored in these chapters, we are particularly interested, because of our backgrounds, in the role of missionaries as the TRC Final Report sees it. First, a general statement is made: “Christian missionaries laid the foundation for Canada’s residential school system. On their own, missionary organizations established the earliest residential schools for Aboriginal people in Canada” (Chapter 2, p. 25). Because they operated within a colonial structure, as the Final Report sees it, even the good that missionaries tried to do could not counterbalance the negative effects of their presence: “Missionaries attempted to protect Indigenous people from elements of the colonial process of which they disapproved. For example, they might lobby traders to give fair prices, urge government officials to provide relief in times of need, and lecture settlers on the need to respect the land rights of Indigenous peoples. However, they were also committed to making the greatest changes in the culture and psychology of the colonized as they worked to undermine Indigenous relationships to the land, language, religion, family relations, educational practices, morality, and social custom” (Chapter 2, p. 26). In this paragraph, there seems to be evidence that the missionaries actually opposed civil authority, but we have been given to understand they were bound together, in cahoots, so to speak, with civil authority, have we not?

The Final Report does not seem to know quite what to do with the Jesuits, one of two religious orders it names as being most involved in missionary work in Canada (p. 27). It admits the “Jesuits’ direct involvement in residential schools in Canada was limited” (Chapter 2, p. 28). Yet it implies the order is still to blame because of its influence on other religious orders, and because of its supposedly militant nature: “However, their work around the world served as a model for both the Oblates and many Protestant missionaries….Ignatius Loyola, a Spanish nobleman and soldier, founded the Society of Jesus in 1534. Ignatius had turned to religious life while recovering from a serious battle wound. His conception of the Society of Jesus as a militant organization was mirrored in Pope Julius III’s bull sanctioning the order, whose missionary activities were conceived of as expeditions in a global war against Satan and paganism. Victory would entail global conquest in Christ’s name…. Operating throughout the Catholic world, the Jesuits often found themselves in conflict with secular authorities: in Brazil, Jesuits denounced the vicious subjugation of the Indigenous people by the Portuguese colonists, and, in Spanish South America, they established reducciones to which the Guarani people, the Indigenous people of the region, withdrew in search of protection from the Spanish colonists. The reducciones were so named because it was expected that, within these communities, the Guarani people would be ‘reduced’ to civilization while being isolated from it. By 1700, it is estimated, at least 80,000 people were living in the reduccciones. When slave hunters from Brazil began to target the Guarani for capture and sale into the South American slave market, the Jesuits provided the Guarani with arms that allowed them to fight back. This Jesuit support for the Guarani contributed to their expulsion from the Spanish Empire and their being suppressed by order of the Pope in 1773. While the Jesuits acted on behalf of what they perceived to be the interests of Indigenous peoples, their work was intended to encourage Indigenous people to accommodate themselves to European colonization. In North America, following the British conquest of New France in 1763, the Jesuits were not expelled, but they were not allowed to train or import new members. The order was reconstituted in 1814. It was not until after the uprisings of 1837 that the British government, seeking to reinforce order and stability, allowed the Jesuits to return. Their missionary work took them to northern and northwestern Ontario, including Manitoulin Island and Spanish, where they established residential schools” (Chapter 3, pp. 27-28).

The Jesuits appear to have opposed civil authority as well on more than one occasion, taking the side of Indigenous peoples and protecting them, and yet their motives were apparently suspect, given their desire to bring Christ to those Indigenous peoples. While the Final Report, as we have seen above, says the pre-Confederation centuries laid the groundwork for the residential schools—and the Jesuits were certainly a strong presence in New France from the early 1600s on, with some exceptions—the Final Report also says the Jesuits’ direct involvement with residential schools was limited (to the influence they had over others?). While the Final Report indicates the work of the Jesuits had the goal of encouraging Indigenous people to adapt to European colonization, it also indicates that the Jesuits made all kinds of adaptations in their approach to education in order to accommodate their Indigenous students (we have shown this already in previous blogs).

While Chapter 3 of the Final Report provides some details concerning how the missionaries of different orders went about their work, the chapter is largely about how unsuccessful the missionaries’ efforts really were, and how much the Aboriginal population resisted the missionaries’ efforts. “The missionaries travelled to Aboriginal communities and sent a number of young Aboriginal children to be educated in France in the hopes that they would, upon return, provide educational leadership in their communities. They established reserves with day schools, and operated boarding schools for Aboriginal children in what is now Canada. For the most part, Aboriginal people resisted these efforts, while the missionary orders at times clashed with one another and with the colonial government. Each of the boarding schools of the French regime operated for only a few years and never had more than a handful of students. During their brief history, those schools were marked by the same conflicts and failings that eventually became the hallmark of the Canadian residential school system of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries” (Chapter 3, pp. 40-41).

The Chapter notes that enrolment was very small and sporadic between the arrival of the Récollets in 1615, through the ensuing period until the early 1700s (cf. p. 46). It appears the missionary effort to educate the Aboriginal population was pretty much a failure, in the Final Report’s view. We have not read beyond Chapter 4 as yet, but on the basis of these first few chapters, it does not seem possible to draw conclusions about the continuity between this period in history and Canada’s post-Confederation residential schools. On the contrary, in addition to the dismal failure of the enterprise, as reported by the TRC, even the Final Report acknowledges there were also many accommodations made for those Indigenous students who did accept the education offered by missionaries in New France: missionaries learned, and taught in, Indigenous languages, incorporated Indigenous foods, provided space for customary activities such as hunting and fishing in the school day, etc. (already noted in earlier blog posts), and no one forced Aboriginal children to attend.

So, we come to the end of this section, wondering what to take away from these chapters? That despite their best efforts, the missionaries were unsuccessful? That despite this lack of success, and that they were primarily French, they laid the groundwork for something designed by a later British government? That despite all the accommodations they made when they discovered new things about the Indigenous peoples here, and that the Indigenous noticed the missionaries’ goodness, and began to trust them and entrust themselves to them and their teaching, this fundamental relationship of mutual respect and love was actually all a sham? Further, what are we to think about all those who, having heard of Christ, asked for and received baptism (giving up only those aspects of their culture incongruent with Christian faith), and whose Indigenous descendents in Canada continue to be members of the Christian Church (see, for example, the website of Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples, Roman Catholic Parish in Edmonton, AB: https://sacredpeoples.com/?

We had hoped for more from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

July 22, 2021

We are so lucky to have access to numerous documents—both primary sources and great numbers of books about history—online these days! We realize not everyone will be able to go to sources themselves, and so we have wanted to provide some access to such sources here in our blog.

Of Marie of the Incarnation, the TRC’s Final Report says this: “The Jesuits oversaw the education of a limited number of Aboriginal girls. Initially, the girls boarded with colonists rather than living at the school residence. This changed in 1639 with the arrival in Québec of three Ursuline nuns, led by Sister Marie de l’Incarnation. The reports of the work the Jesuits were undertaking in North America inspired her to devote her fortune to the ‘missionizing’ of Aboriginal people there. When she fell seriously ill, she vowed that if her health was restored, she would travel to North America to open a convent and mission school. Upon her recovery, she devoted her life to educational work in Canada. The Ursulines started teaching Aboriginal girls soon after their arrival in 1639, but it was not until 1642 that they acquired a building that was to serve as a boarding school. The majority of students were non-Aboriginal, and the number of Aboriginal girls who lived at the school was never large: for example, there were only three in 1668 and nine in 1681. The intention was to train the girls to be Christian wives and mothers. However, for all the Iroquoian and Algonkian dictionaries and catechisms the Ursulines produced, Aboriginal girls never felt at home in the convent. In 1668, Sister de l’Incarnation could only lament: ‘It is however a very difficult thing, although not impossible, to francize or civilize them. We have had more experience in this than any others, and we have remarked that out of a hundred that have passed through our hands scarcely have we civilized one. We find docility and intelligence in them, but when we are least expecting it they climb over our enclosure and go to run in the woods with their relatives, where they find more pleasure than in all the amenities of our French houses. Savage nature is made that way; they cannot be constrained, and if they are they become melancholy and their melancholy makes them sick. Besides, the Savages love their children extraordinarily and when they know that they are sad they will do everything to get them back, and we have to give them back to them.’ Not all children were returned to their parents. In a 1646 letter, Sister de l’Incarnation mourned the death of five-and-a-half-year-old Charity Negaskoumat, who had died at the convent of a lung infection. Sister de l’Incarnation thought that, at best, she had francized about seven or eight women, who had subsequently married French men” (Final Report, p. 44).

With Marie of the Incarnation, though, it seems to us the TRC’s Final Report misses a special opportunity for dialogue that could have facilitated the work of reconciliation (involving mutual respect and an ongoing process, “regardless of political affiliation, cultural background, or personal history”), as Justice Murray Sinclair (Mizana Gheezhik), Chair of the TRC of Canada defines it in his introductory statement. Might the TRC have focused on the real life circumstances of Marie of the Incarnation, which could draw Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal together?

For example, the Final Report appears to imply the business of arranged marriages for those who had completed their schooling was another instance of unwanted intrusion by those responsible for running residential schools: “[T]he government and churches even arranged marriages for students after they finished their education” (Introduction, p. 5). Marie, who was once Marie Guyart and born in Tours, France in 1599, would have appreciated the sentiment, as she, too, had a marriage arranged for her, though by her father: “Marie’s father was at best only a ‘merchant baker,’ and it was a step up when he arranged to marry one daughter to a schoolteacher, another to a busy wagoner, and Marie to a silkmaker—a member of the city’s most important industry….Marie dutifully married the silkmaker Claude Martin when she was seventeen. She then put aside the ‘vain’ reading of her youth to concentrate on books of piety and the Psalms in French, and surprised all her neighbors, if not her obliging husband, by going to church every day. At least her acts of devotion did not interfere with her care for her husband’s silkworkers and other tasks around the shop. At eighteen she became a mother; at nineteen she was left a widow with her infant son, Claude” [Davis, Natalie Zemon, Women on the Margins (Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 1995), 65-66]. There were other offers of marriage, but Marie rejected them all, because she felt she had been freed from married life to pursue instead a religious life she had longed for from her youth.

The TRC’s Final Report repeatedly points out that all the missionaries noticed how much the Aboriginal people loved their children, and how difficult it was for Aboriginal families to give over their children to be educated by the missionaries (Recollets, pp. 41-2; Jesuits, pp. 43-44; Ursulines, p. 45, etc.). Marie also had a son, whom she loved dearly, and she made the difficult decision to leave him behind when he reached the age of eleven to pursue what she believed was her calling from childhood, according to the will of God. By this age, it was thought at the time that men ought to educate boys and she placed him in the care of a monastery, though continued to correspond with him throughout his life. To her son, from New France, she writes: “My dear and beloved son, Your letter brought me so profound a consolation that it is very hard for me to describe it. All this year I have been in great torment, imagining the pitfalls where you might stumble. But finally our gracious God gave me peace in the belief that his loving and fatherly goodness would never lose what had been abandoned for his love. Your letter has confirmed this, my dear son, letting me see all I had hoped for you—even beyond my dreams—for his goodness has put you in a very holy order, one I deeply honor and esteem. I have wanted this grace for you ever since the reformation of the monasteries of St. Julien and Marmoutier; but since vocations must spring from heaven, I said nothing to you, not wanting to interfere in what belongs to God alone.

“You have been abandoned by your mother and your relatives, yet hasn’t this abandonment been to your advantage? When I left you before you were twelve years old, I endured terrible agonies of spirit which were known to God alone. I had to obey his divine will and it was his will that things happened thus, leading me to the hope that he would take care of you. My heart was strengthened so that I was able to overcome what had delayed my entry into religious life for ten long years. Still, the necessity of this act had to be pointed out to me by Dom Raymond and by other means which I cannot commit to paper although I would gladly tell you in person. I foresaw that you would be abandoned by your relatives, which cost me a thousand pains; this, linked to human weakness, made me fear your ruin….

“I believe, and your letter assures me of this, that you do not regret these things, such as the lowliness of your birth, about which you speak and which is of no importance….I have never loved you except in the poverty of Jesus Christ in whom I have found all riches….” [Letter to her son, novice at the Benedictine Abbery at Vendome, September 4, 1641, in Marie of the Incarnation: Selected Writings, ed. Irene Mahoney (New York: Paulist Press, 1989), 221-2].

Natalie Zemon Davis, in Women on the Margins: ­Three Seventeenth-Century Lives (Canbridge and London: Harvard University Press, 1995), on the bibliography list of the TRC’s Final Report, says this of Marie of the Incarnation: “In the summer of 1654, an Ursuline sister in Québec mailed her son in Paris a relation of her life and the Lord’s conduct toward her. Among much else, she reminded him of what had happened when she had first taken the veil in the town of Tours some twenty-three years before. Everyone but her confessor had pressed her not to leave her son, who was then only eleven. Since she was a widow, the boy would be alone in the world and God would punish her. She herself had been torn in two. She felt her ‘natural love’ for him and her obligations to him, ‘but the interior voice that followed me everywhere said, ‘Hurry, it’s time; it’s not good for you to be in the world any longer.’ Putting my son in the arms of God and the holy Virgin, I left him, and my aged father also, who wept in lamentation” (Davis, 63).

Davis goes on to say that Marie “discussed the matter (her verb is traiter) humbly and lovingly with Our Lord, whose holy will she had followed in abandoning her son, and over and over again asked his compassion for the poor lad. ‘One day, while I was walking up the novitiate stairs, Jesus assured me by interior words that he would take care of my son and consoled me so sweetly that all my affliction turned to peace and certitude’” (Davis, 64).

Might the love of their own children have been a common point of dialogue that could draw the disparate cultures of the Aboriginal people and missionaries such as Marie of the Incarnation together?

The Final Report also speaks of missionary efforts “to convince people to change not only their religious beliefs (faith in dreams, and sacrifices to spirits), but also their ceremonial dances and sweat lodges, their social and marriage practices, the way they raised their children, and the way they buried and mourned their dead” (Final Report, p. 34). We want to focus here on dreams. Of the significance of dreams for the Aboriginal people he encountered, Fr. Brebœuf says, “They have a faith in dreams which surpasses all belief; and if Christians were to put into execution all their divine inspirations with as much care as our Savages carry out their dreams, no doubt they would very soon become great Saints. They look upon their dreams as ordinances and irrevocable decrees, the execution of which it is not permitted without crime to delay. A Savage of our Village dreamed this winter, in his first sleep, that he ought straightway to make a feast; and immediately, night as it was, he arose, and came and awakened us to borrow one of our kettles.

“The dream is the oracle that all these poor Peoples consult and listen to, the Prophet which predicts to them future events, the Cassandra which warns them of misfortunes that threaten them, the usual Physician in their sicknesses, the Esculapius and Galen of the whole Country,—the most absolute master they have. If a Captain speaks one way and a dream another, the Captain might shout his head off in vain,—the dream is first obeyed. It is their Mercury in [page 169] their journeys, their domestic Economy in their families. The dream often presides in their councils; traffic, fishing, and hunting are undertaken usually under its sanction, and almost as if only to satisfy it. They hold nothing so precious that they would not readily deprive themselves of it for the sake of a dream. If they have been successful in hunting, if they bring back their Canoes laden with fish, all this is at the discretion of a dream. A dream will take away from them sometimes their whole year’s provisions. It prescribes their feasts, their dances, their songs, their games,—in a word, the dream does everything and is in truth the principal God of the Hurons. Moreover, let no one think I make herein an amplification or exaggeration at pleasure; the experience of five years, during which I have been studying the manners and usages of our Savages, compels me to speak in this way.

‘It is true that all dreams are not held in such credit; regard is had to the persons, and there are some who dream in vain; for these no one will stir a step. Likewise if it is a poor person, his dreams are held in very little consideration. It must be a person in fairly good circumstances, and one whose dreams have been found several times true. And even those who have the gift of dreaming well do not all give heed to their dreams indifferently; they recognize some of them as false and some as true,—the latter, they say, being quite rare. Yet in practice they act in another way, and carry out some so badly put together, and made up of so many parts having so little connection, that it would not be possible to say what are in their own judgment false, and what true; I fancy they themselves would find considerable [page 171] difficulty in doing this; that is why, for fear of failing in this point, many carry out the greater part of them. If there be any obscurity in their dreams, or if the things they have dreamed are either impossible or difficult to recover, or are out of season, there are found Artemidores who interpret them, and who cut and slice them as seems good to them. When children are sick, the fathers or mothers dream for them; we saw an example of this in our Village this winter. One of our little Christians was very sick; his mother dreamed that to make him well he must have a hundred cakes of Tobacco, and four Beavers, with which she would make a feast; but, because the Tobacco was very rare, the hundred cakes were reduced to ten, and the Beavers which were out of season were changed to four large fish that passed for Beavers in the feast, and the tails of which were given to the principals as Beaver tails. But this little Angel, for all that, flew away to heaven, to the great grief of its parents,…[page 173]”(Relations, Vol. 10, Ch. 3, pp. 167-173).

Marie Guyart’s life, pre- and post-entry into the Ursuline order, was full of dreams (and visions) she interpreted as having a spiritual meaning. Here again, Davis provides helpful information: “When Marie was a girl, Jesus had visited and kissed her in a dream, and as a teenager she had thought wistfully of the local Benedictine nunnery of Beaumont, where one of her mother’s distant kin was abbess” (Davis, 65-66). During the ten years or so after her husband’s death, Marie’s private life was filled “with surprising mystical experience, the development of mental prayer, works of charity, and severe bodily mortifications. On the vigil of the Feast of the Incarnation, 1620, as she went about her activities on the streets of Tours, she suddenly saw with her inner eye for the first time all the sins and imperfections of her entire life and felt herself plunged in the blood of the forgiving Christ. When she came to herself, she was in front of the chapel of the Feuillants, a penitential religious order that had arrived in tours only a few months before. She entered, and indifferent to a woman eavesdropping nearby, tearfully poured out her sins to one of the Fathers. The astonished Feuillant told her to come back the next day and tell him all over again. So she acquired what she had never known existed: a Director for her soul….It was under the guidance of her Feuillant Director…that she found the words to speak not only of her sins but of her visions. It was her Director who advised her to let Christ lead her soul” (Davis, 67-68).

When Marie did let Christ lead her soul, she claimed “an apostolic fire burned in her heart to bring knowledge of Jesus Christ to the many poor souls in need of it in faraway lands. As with the earlier discoveries in her life, it began with a vision. One night ‘in a dream’ (en songe), it seemed to her she was walking hand in hand with a laywoman into a vast silent landscape of precipitous mountains, valleys, and fog. Above the mist rose a small marble church, on whose root sat the Virgin with Jesus. The Virgin talked to the child, and Marie understood that it was about her and that land. Then the Virgin smiled radiantly and kissed he three times as the laywoman watched.

“Her Jesuit Director identified the land as ‘Canada.’ A country which up till then she had never heard of as such, ‘thinking it just a word used to scare children’….The Lord confirmed her Director’s identification one day when she was praying, and told her, ‘You must go there and make a house for Jesus and Mary.’ Now she began to read the printed Relations that the Jesuits were sending back each year from the missions of New France, and yearned to convert the ‘savages’ of that distant clime—‘an extraordinary enterprise,’ she knew, ‘apparently far removed from a person of my condition’ (sometimes she added ‘and of my sex’). ‘My body was in our monastery, but my spirit was tied to that of Jesus and could not be enclosed…I walked in spirit in those great vastitudes, accompanying those working for the Gospel’” (Davis, 77-78).

Whatever stock readers may put in their own dreams and visions, it is clear that Marie of the Incarnation and the Aboriginal people encountered in New France drew from them direction for action. Marie Guyart took them to be a direct communication from God and she felt as bound to obey them as the Aboriginal people felt about following the prescriptions of their own dreams. Both Aboriginal people and the Christian tradition also employed some measure of discernment in viewing the content of dreams. Might this not have been a third area worthy of discussion by the TRC’s Final Report?

July 21, 2021

We promised to talk about Sillery and about Marie of the Incarnation today, but we think  Sillery will be topic enough for reflection, so Marie of the Incarnation will have to wait until tomorrow.

In offering three different descriptions of Sillery (two very short, and one quite long), we want to provide readers with an opportunity to form their own judgements on the basis of a comparison among the three. By way of suggestion, we invite readers to consider what picture of Sillery is formed in the mind with each description? We begin with the Final Report.

The TRC’s Final Report describes Sillery as follows: “[The Jesuits] sought to establish what amounted to a reserve at Sillery, a few miles outside Québec City. There, they expected the Huron and Innu would abandon hunting and trapping —which the Europeans believed left far too much time for idleness—and take up farming. It was hoped too that, as they adopted a settled lifestyle, the Aboriginal people would also adopt the Catholic faith” (p. 44).

The online Canadian Encyclopedia has this under “Sillery:”

“Sillery was the first reserve created by Europeans for Aboriginal peoples in what is now Canada. It was established in 1637 near Québec City. It was funded by a French nobleman, Noël Brûlart de Sillery, in response to an advertisement placed by Father Paul Le Jeune in the Jesuit Relations. Le Jeune was looking for a suitable place to attempt to convert Aboriginal people to Catholicism. His aim was to instill an agricultural lifestyle in the semi-nomadic Algonquin and Innu people of the area in order to more easily evangelize them. The land was granted as a seigneury to Christian Aboriginal people under Jesuit supervision.” (Accessed July 21, 2021: https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/sillery). [Additional material is contained in this article which has to do with the demise of Sillery several decades later, but we have omitted this because it is not pertinent to the establishing of Sillery, our focus here].

Now we invite readers to have a look at the account of the beginnings of Sillery from the Jesuit Relations. The writer is Fr. Paul le Jeune, superior of the residence of Kébec, (Québec) sending his reports to his own superior in Europe.

“THIS Chapter will give consolation to Your Reverence and to all persons who take pleasure in seeing Jesus Christ reign in our great forests, for it inspires us with great hope for the conversion of the Savages, so greatly can they be aided in the way I am about to describe.

“One of the most efficient means we can use to bring them to Jesus Christ is to organize them into a sort of Village,—in a word, to help them clear and cultivate the land, and to build homes for themselves. When we were continually seeking some help to accomplish this enterprise, it happened that a virtuous person of your France, well known in Heaven and upon earth, and whose name cannot go forth from my pen without displeasing him, informed me of a plan he had for serving Our Lord in these countries. He hired for this purpose some artisans and laborers, to begin a building and to clear some lands,—assuring me in his letters that he had no other object in this work than the greater glory of God. We located his workmen in a beautiful place, at present called the Residence of St. Joseph, a good league above Kebec, upon the great river. Monsieur Gand had taken this place for himself, but he willingly consecrated it to so good an object. Affairs being in this condition, we sent word to this good Seignior that he [page 205] would make a great sacrifice to God if he would apply the work of his men to succoring the Savages. We must wait a year for an answer. Meanwhile, it happened that, upon asking a Savage for his children to place them in the Seminary, he answered us: ‘It is too little to give you my children; take the father and mother, and the whole family, and lodge us near your dwelling, that we may hear your doctrine and believe in him who has made all.’ We asked him if he was speaking sincerely. ‘I am speaking to you frankly,’ said he, ‘according to the thoughts of my heart.’ This made us resolve to offer him at once the house that was being erected at the residence of St. Joseph,—on condition, however, that if he to whom we had written were not satisfied with this, he should go out of it. This good Savage, named by his own people Negabamat, told us that he would come to see us to talk over this matter, and that he would bring with him one of his friends, of the same mind. He associated with himself a certain Nenaskoumat, our François Xavier of whom I have spoken above [we have not included this side story here]. They both came to see us one evening, and said to us that important affairs would far better be transacted in the silence of the night than in the noise of the day; and, consequently, that we should give them shelter, that they might treat with us regarding the matter which we had mentioned to them.

“The Sun having set, and every one having gone to rest, Negabamat made me the following speech: ‘Father le Jenne, thou art already old, and therefore it is no longer permitted to thee to lie. Come now, take courage, and boldly speak the truth. Is it not true that thou hast promised me to lodge us in [page 207] this house they are building, and to help us, me and another family, to clear the land? Here is Nenaskoumat, with whom I am associated; he is a peaceable man,—thou knowest him well. We come to see if thou art firm in thy promises; all the Savages to whom we have spoken of this plan admire it, but they do not believe thou wilt ever put it into execution; take care what thou doest. If thou art going to lie, lie soon, before getting us into a house only to make us leave it. We have some influence among those of our nation; if they saw us deceived by you people, they would ridicule us, and this would anger us.’ This harangue, so ingenuous, made us smile. I replied to them that this house did not belong to us, and that the men who were building it were not hired by us; but that I had written to France to him who had undertaken this enterprise, to use it for the good of their nation, and that, as they were the first to present themselves to be helped, they would also be the first to receive assistance if we had a favorable answer; that, moreover, I was promising myself thus much from the goodness of this man of God, that he would readily grant them this great and especial favor.

“Thereupon they asked us a thousand questions. ‘This great man to whom thou hast written, is he not as good as the rest of you?’ ‘Much better,’ we replied. ‘That is very well,’ they rejoined, ‘for since you wish to benefit us, and as you have already done so, if this Captain is better than you, he will do still more for us. But is he very old?’ ‘He is, indeed,’ we answered them. ‘Will he not die very soon?’ ‘We know nothing about that.’ Does he often pray to God?’ ‘Very often.’ It is [page 209] done,’ said they, ‘we shall be aided; for if he prays frequently to God, God will love him; if God loves him, he will preserve him; and, if he lives a long time, he will help us, since he is good.’ You can imagine how much this so artless method of reasoning consoled us. ‘There is still another point of importance,’ said they, continuing their talk; ‘as we are already getting old, if we happen to die, will you not drive our children from this house,—[451 will you not refuse them the help that you will have given us?’ Having explained to them how, among us, the property of the parents belongs to the children after their death, they cried out, ‘Ho, Ho, what good things thou tellest us, if thou art not lying; but why shouldst thou lie, being no longer a child?’

“Behold, then, my men, the happiest in the world. They go to see the house that is being built, they cannot look at it enough; they ask to lodge there in the Spring as soon as it shall be completed and furnished. ‘Meanwhile,’ said Negabamat, ‘we will go and do our hunting during the winter.’ Nenaskoumat, who was thinking as much of the blessings of Heaven as of worldly assistance, said to us in an undertone, ‘For my part, I will come and pass the winter near you, to be instructed.’

“So they are separated,—the one crossing the great river to go in search of Beavers, the other coming to encamp very near Kebec. The affairs of God are established only in the midst of difficulties. They both fall very sick at the same time. Who would not have thought that all this project would be overthrown? Nenaskoumat found the life of the soul in the sickness of the body; he was made a Christian, and named François Xavier, as I have already [page 211] remarked. As for Negabamat, we could not give him any help, as he was too far away from us.

“The goodness of God, which began this work, and which will bring it to completion, as we hope, restored to us our two proselytes in good health,—not without fear, and many vows and mortifications being offered to him. When Spring came, my people presented themselves at the house which was awaiting them; they were received with open arms. Their hearts were filled with joy, the other Savages with astonishment, and we with consolation, at seeing the first foundations of a village laid, and after that of a Church which is already producing flowers and fruits most acceptable in the sight of Angels and of men. These two families are composed of about twenty persons, the greater part of whom are already baptized, and the rest will be soon, if it please God. At the time I am writing this, they have already been several months together in one rather small room; and still I can say with truth that I have yet to notice the least quarrel or the least dispute among them.

“The other Savages of the neighborhood came to Encamp around this house, asking the same favor, but they see clearly that they cannot be assisted so soon; our houses are not built in two hours, as their Cabins are.

“The report of this assistance that we intended to give the Savages spread immediately in all the surrounding nations; it has touched them so deeply that, if we had the power to give them the same help, they would all be subdued in a very short time. And notice, if you please, a great blessing in this matter; not one of them hopes to be lodged and assisted who does not resolve to be an honest man, and to become [page 213] a Christian,—so much so that it is the same thing in a Savage to wish to become sedentary, and to wish to believe in God.

“In these common and public rejoicings, one point kept our two proselytes in suspense,—their continual uncertainty whether that kind man who had this house built at his expense, would send us good paper, as they termed it,—that is to say, would look favorably upon their plan; they ardently longed for the coming of the ships. Having at last had news of them, they came to see us, and asked us if the paper that had come from France was good. They had great fear that a written word would cause them to leave their home, to which they were greatly attached. We answered them that the Fathers who were bringing this paper were on the way, between Tadoussac and Kebec, in a bark which was conveying them hither. As they saw that the wind might delay them, they asked me for a written message, that they might go and bring them in their canoe; I gave it to them at once, and they embarked still more quickly. They went like the wind, came alongside the bark, took the two Fathers out of it, and brought them to us. Our joy was twofold,—that we saw our Fathers in good health, and that we learned the holy wishes of this man, truly a man of God, who granted this help to the poor Savages with a heart so disinterested and full of love that we stood amazed at it. As soon as I opened my lips to mention it to our two settlers, they exulted with joy; they performed a thousand acts of thanksgiving, after their fashion, and told me a hundred times that I was not a liar, that this kind man was truly a Captain; that they fully recognized that I was now of their nation, [page 215] and that they were going to tell everywhere that they were also of ours; and that I should not fail to write a good paper to France to tell this good Captain that they would never belie their promises to serve Jesus Christ all their lives. Negabamat made this speech. As for François, already a Christian, he told me that his great joy was to be near us, so that he could better learn to pray to God.

“In going thence, they published everywhere that we were truthful; that we were their fathers,—that we wished to revive their nation, which was rapidly dying out. It is wonderful what potent effects the charity of this good man has upon these Barbarians. They are crowding around us now, but we cannot supply the wants of all,—the difficulty of building in this country, on account of the length of the Winter and the expenses that must be incurred, being extreme. If they ever see a hospital erected, and their sick well lodged and cared for, that will be another wonder which will delight them all. The poverty of the country relieves but little, or not at all, the great expenses that must be incurred for these truly heroic enterprises. But would to God that those who are able to favor these enterprises might see, at least once, the devotional exercises that are daily practiced in the house of these new settlers. Were I not afraid of being tedious, I would relate here the great desire they have to know God, their ingenuousness, their natural goodness, their pleasing questions, and the satisfaction they experience in finding themselves not only lodged in the French way, but also instructed in the Faith. May it please our Lord to keep them under his holy protection. Amen [page 217]”(Relations, Vol. 14, Ch. 7, pp. 203-217).

We wonder what insights readers have gained, and what, if any, conclusions readers have drawn? The viewpoints of the Final Report and Le Jeune’s Relation seem very far apart, so much so that it is difficult to recognize common ground between the two. In the least, one can say that the word “reserve” conjures up in the modern mind something very different from what is being described in the Relations, and the general tone of the two descriptions diverges considerably, inviting the question, why? Here, too, we leave readers to make their own judgements on this point.

July 20, 2021

In the news yesterday, online reports appeared which demonstrate very different viewpoints, information, and conclusions about the discovery of unmarked graves. Here’s the first: https://www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/marieval-cemetery-graves-1.6106563. Here’s the second: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/treaty5-summit-residential-schools-comments-pallister-lagimodiere-1.6108012. Today, we invite readers to reflect on what accounts for the differences, and to consider how one might go about achieving reconciliation and a way forward, given such varied interpretations of past and current events.

Tomorrow, we continue with Sillery, the first “reserve,” and Marie of the Incarnation.

July 19, 2021

We wanted to check a footnote from yesterday that is indicated in the TRC’s Final Report, and we were able to do so today. The text we were interested in checking was Magneson’s Education in New France, p. 47. The TRC Final Report writes: “[T]raders and missionaries could operate without fear in the countryside if Aboriginal children were, in effect, ‘held hostage’ in a Jesuit seminary” (p. 43). The “fear” spoken of appears to be the fear of attacks, especially by the Iroquois. Magneson writes “hostages” as we have put it here, in double quotes (suggesting a direct quote), and then refers to the Jesuit Relations passage we included yesterday, and repeat again below.

“But I would like to keep here, where we are, the children of the Hurons. Father Brebœuf leads us to hope that we shall have some, if he goes with our Fathers into those well-peopled countries, and if there is anything with which to found a seminary. The reason why I would not like to take the children of one locality [and teach them] in that locality itself, but rather in some other place, is because these Barbarians cannot bear to have their children punished, nor even scolded, not being able to refuse anything to a crying child. They carry this to such an extent that upon [page 153] the slightest pretext they would take them away before they were educated. But if the little Hurons, or the children of more distant tribes, are kept here, a great many advantages will result, for we would not be annoyed and distracted by the fathers while instructing the children; it will also compel these people to show good treatment to the French who are in their country, or at least not to do them any injury. And, lastly, we shall obtain, by the grace of God our Lord, the object for which we came into this distant country; namely, the conversion of these nations” (Relations, Vol. 6, Ch. 3, pp. 153-55).

The word “hostages” does not appear in the text Magneson cites, as readers can see. There is, however, the statement towards the end of the paragraph that shows that the Jesuits were concerned about safety and the success of their mission. They had already lost some of their number and were not anxious to lose more, but this was not their primary concern by any means. If it had been, they never would have come. From the beginning, their hope had been to teach Aboriginal children who would become Christian leaders in their communities, and they saw the need for some measure of withdrawal from the customary Aboriginal life in order to achieve this. The ability to work the land and grow food would mean the Aboriginal people would not have to live day to day hoping they would find food. It would, of course, also mean the education the Jesuits wanted to provide could continue uninterrupted by nomadic movements of the people.

Further, the Jesuits changed their normal disciplinary practices precisely so as not to alarm parents or children. Magneson notes, quoting Fr. Paul le Jeune, “The Jesuits realized that the business of supervising Indian boys called for tact, patience, gentleness, and flexibility. Hence, the Jesuit tradition of shutting pupils off from the world and watching over them closely during their waking hours was relaxed in deference to the Indians’ life of unrestrained freedom. Moreover, recognizing that the rich and varied diet of the French table did not suit the more sensitive aboriginal stomach, the Jesuits modified the school menu to include traditional Indian dishes such as sagamité. Again, in the knowledge that even the mildest form of punishment could trigger rebellion in their pupils, they were careful not to chastise them in the French manner. Instead, as Le Jeune advised, “one must seize the occasion to subdue them by love” (Education in New France, p. 49, quoting Relations, Vol. 16, Ch. 9, pp. 179-181).

The full description Magneson provides demonstrates the flexibility and preparedness of the Jesuits to modify their instinctive and customary practices so as to accommodate their Aboriginal students. They appear to be much more motivated by love and concern for these students than by their own possible fears. They were prepared to adapt to circumstances as much as possible—and the Aboriginal people helped them do this—always keeping their primary goal in mind, that the Aboriginal people would attain the salvation Christ offered to everyone.

July 18, 2021

Yesterday, we began an exploration of the Jesuit missionary effort in New France, with a few general comments. Today we would like to give readers some small access to primary sources, from the Jesuit Relations, a collection of regular reports (over seventy volumes) sent by the superior of the Jesuits in New France to his superiors in Europe during the period from 1610 to 1791. Readers can access this record here: http://moses.creighton.edu/kripke/jesuitrelations/. We remind readers that the vocabulary employed in these documents is obviously not the same as the language we would use today, so an effort is needed to look at these documents within the historical context they were written and not apply today’s usages and intents to those writing centuries ago.

Fr. Paul le Jeune, for example, while superior of the Jesuits in New France summed up their mission in three points:

i) First, “to check [put in check] the progress of those who overthrow Religion, and to make ourselves feared by the Iroquois, who have killed some of our men, as every one knows, and who recently massacred two hundred Hurons, and took more than a hundred prisoners. This is, in my opinion, the only door through which we can escape the contempt into which the negligence of those who have heretofore held the trade of this country has thrown us, through their avarice” (Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents, [hereafter Relations], Vol. 6, Ch. 3, pp. 143-5). In other words, the Jesuits perceived as the greatest obstacle to the success of their mission the greed of the traders, who behaved in an unchristian way.  

ii) Second, to settle French farmers, who know the language and can introduce the advantages of farming and settled lifestyles, which Le Jeune perceives as important to any education. In his own words, he writes: “The second means of commending ourselves to the Savages, to induce them to receive our holy faith, would be to send a number of capable men to clear and cultivate the land, who, joining themselves with others who know the language, would work for the Savages, on condition that they would settle down, and themselves put their hands to the work, living in houses that would be built for their use; by this means becoming located, and seeing this miracle of charity in their behalf, they could be more [page 145] easily instructed and won. While conversing this Winter with my Savages, I communicated to them this plan, assuring them that when I knew their language perfectly, I would help them cultivate the land if I could have some men, and if they wished to stop roving,—representing to them the wretchedness of their present way of living, and influencing them very perceptibly, for the time being The Sorcerer, having heard me, turned toward his people and said, “See how boldly this black robe lies in our presence.” I asked him why he thought I was lying. “Because,” said he, “we never see in this world men so good as thou sayest, who would take the trouble to help us without hope of reward, and to employ so many men to aid us without taking anything from us; if thou shouldst do that,” he added, “thou wouldst secure the greater part of the Savages, and they would all believe in thy words” (Relations, Vol. 6, Ch. 3, pp. 143-147).

Le Jeune continues: “I may be mistaken; but, if I can draw any conclusion from the things I see, it seems to me that not much ought to be hoped for from the Savages as long as they are wanderers; you will instruct them today, tomorrow hunger snatches your hearers away, forcing them to go and seek their food in the rivers and woods. Last year I stammered out the Catechism to a goodly number of children; as soon as the ships departed, my birds flew away, some in one direction and some in another. This year, I hoped to see them again, as I speak a little better; but, as they have settled on the other side of the great river St. Lawrence, my hopes have been frustrated. To try to follow them, as many Religious would be needed as there are cabins, and still we would not attain our object; for they are so occupied in seeking [page 147] livelihood in these woods, that they have not time, so to speak, to save themselves. Besides, I do not believe that, out of a hundred Religious, there would be ten who could endure the hardships to be in following them. I tried to live among them last Autumn; I was not there a week before I was attacked by a violent fever, which caused me to return to our little house to recover my health. Being cured, I tried to follow them during the Winter, and I was very ill the greater part of the time. These reasons, and many others that I might give, were I not afraid of being tedious, make me think that we shall work a great deal and advance very little, if we do not make these Barbarians stationary. As for persuading them to till the soil of their own accord, without being helped, I very much doubt whether we shall be able to attain this for a long time, for they know nothing whatever about it. Besides, where will they store their harvests? As their cabins are made of bark, the first frost will spoil all the roots and pumpkins that they will have gathered. If they plant peas and Indian corn, they have no place in their huts to store them. But who will feed them while they are beginning to clear the land? For they live only from one day to another, having ordinarily no provisions to sustain them during the time that they must be clearing. Finally, when they had killed themselves with hard work, they could not get from the land half their living, until it was cleared and they understood how to make the best use of it” (Relations, Vol. 6, Ch. 3, pp. 145-151).

Further, he says: “Now, with the assistance of a few good, industrious men, it would be easy to locate a few families, especially as some of them have already spoken to [page 149] me about it, thus of themselves becoming accustomed, little by little, to extract something from the earth. I know well there are persons of good judgment who believe that, although the Savages are nomadic, the good seed of the Gospel will not fail to take root and bring forth fruit in their souls, although more slowly, as they can only be instructed at intervals. They imagine also that, if a few families come over here, as they are already beginning to do, the Savages will follow the example of our French and will settle down to cultivate the land. I myself was impressed with these ideas, when we first came over here; but the intercourse which I have had with these people, and the difficulty that men accustomed to a life of idleness have in embracing one of hard work, such as cultivating the soil, cause me to believe now that if they are not helped they will lose heart, especially the Savages at Tadoussac. As to those of the three rivers, where our French People are going to plant a new colony this year, they have promised that they will settle down there and plant Indian corn; this seems to me not altogether assured, but probable, inasmuch as their predecessors once had a good village in that place, which they abandoned on account of the invasions of their enemies, the Hiroquois. The Captain of that region told me that the land there was quite good, and they liked it very much. If they become sedentary, as they are now minded to do, we foresee there a harvest more abundant in the blessings of Heaven than in the fruits of the earth” (Relations, Vol. 6, Ch. 3, pp. 147-151).

iii) “The third means of making ourselves welcome to these people, would be to erect here a seminary for little boys, and in time one for girls, under the direction of some brave mistress, whom zeal for the glory of God, and a desire for the salvation of these people, will bring over here, with a few Companions animated by the same courage” (Relations, Vol. 6, Ch. 3, pp. 149-153). Le Jeune gives some encouragement to women to make the trip and take up this difficult but rewarding work. He then makes the case for the idea of a seminary, perhaps somewhat apart, noting that the Aboriginals are very sensitive to correcting a child (which, to le Jeune, may stand in the way of education), and that education needs an undistracted focus: “But I would like to keep here, where we are, the children of the Hurons. Father Brebœuf leads us to hope that we shall have some, if he goes with our Fathers into those well-peopled countries, and if there is anything with which to found a seminary. The reason why I would not like to take the children of one locality [and teach them] in that locality itself, but rather in some other place, is because these Barbarians cannot bear to have their children punished, nor even scolded, not being able to refuse anything to a crying child. They carry this to such an extent that upon [page 153] the slightest pretext they would take them away before they were educated. But if the little Hurons, or the children of more distant tribes, are kept here, a great many advantages will result, for we would not be annoyed and distracted by the fathers while instructing the children; it will also compel these people to show good treatment to the French who are in their country, or at least not to do them any injury. And, lastly, we shall obtain, by the grace of God our Lord, the object for which we came into this distant country; namely, the conversion of these nations” (Relations, Vol. 6, Ch. 3, pp. 149-55).

We wonder if it might be the last part of Le Jeune’s argument here that leads the TRC Final Report to conclude, “There was another political and economic benefit to residential schooling: traders and missionaries could operate without fear in the countryside if Aboriginal children were, in effect, ‘held hostage’ in a Jesuit seminary” (p. 43)? Still, if hostage-taking were really the point the way readers today are likely to understand that, the following description of seminary circumstances would be difficult to explain. In his June 7, 1639 letter (Relation) to the French Jesuit Provincial, Fr. Lalemant writes: “This year we have had Montagnais, Algonquins, and Hurons in our Seminaries. The Seminarists are here under very different conditions, and at very different ages. Some were given to us permanently, and these we have reared with certain families, on account of their youth; others lived with us, in order to be instructed in the Faith and in the Christian virtues; some have only thirsted for liberty, others have been fully instructed and have received holy Baptism. In short, I can say that the Seminary has found itself in calms and in tempests, in prosperity and in adversity” (Relations, Vol. 16, Ch. 9, pp. 167-169). This description seems to indicate a great variety of situations represented in seminary life, and a certain amount of flux that is unlike a hostage-taking situation we might envision today.

The daily routine at the seminary, described next, adds further details to help our understanding of what was happening. In his 1637 letter (Relation), Fr. Le Jeune writes: “After Mass they breakfast, then are taught reading and writing; after which, having taken an [page 63] intermission, the Father teaches them the Catechism, explaining to them the mysteries of our faith, to which they give strict attention. When the dinner hour comes, they themselves, with one or two young Frenchmen who have remained with them, set the table; and some time after this meal they do not fail to go to the Chapel to salute and adore our Lord, offering him this little prayer: ‘My God, I thank you for having kept me from morning until now; keep me the rest of the day; forget my faults, and aid me not to relapse into them again; I present to you all my acts, give me your grace to perform them well.’ After that, they are given a little more instruction in reading; and then are free to go and walk, or to devote their attention to some occupation. They generally go hunting or fishing, or make bows and arrows, or clear some land in their own way, or do anything else that is agreeable to them” (Relations, Vol. 12, Ch. 13, pp. 61-5). This seems to suggest a good measure of freedom allowed to students at the seminary.

Another event illustrates well the Jesuits’ ability to learn from the Aboriginal culture they encountered and adjust their actions and approaches accordingly. Initially committed to children’s education, they had to revise their approach when presented with real life situations. Lalemant relates: “The one among the Hurons who has preeminently succeeded was a man about fifty years old. There is no age which is not fit for Heaven. It has so often been declared that we must give peculiar care to the young plants, and that one should not expect’ fruit from the old stocks, —and yet God often makes the contrary appear to us. This good man, having heard something about God in his own country, decided to go down to Kebec and pass the winter there, that he might learn to know him. On the way, he encountered Joseph Tewatirhon, who was leaving the Seminary, who solidly confirmed him in his purpose, and gave him a rosary as a token of his friendship. Having arrived at the three Rivers, he presented [Page 169] himself for reception; but, seeing how old he was, we refused him. The Savages do not allow themselves to be thrice denied, unless they have a great longing to obtain what they demand; we refused this one more than four times, and still he never lost courage. He applied to our Frenchmen, in order to obtain admission to us through their agency; but the Father who had to take charge of him, wishing to get rid of him entirely, told him that he was too old, and that his mind was too dull to retain what would be taught him,…To all this he replied shrewdly. “It seems to me,” he said, “that thou art not right to prefer children to grown men. Young people are not listened to in our country: if they should relate wonders, they would not be believed. But men speak, —they have solid understanding, and what they say is believed; hence I shall make a better report of your doctrine, when I return to my country, than will the children whom thou seekest….In fact, when this good man saw that, notwithstanding his replies, we were unwilling to admit him to the Seminary, he allied himself with a Frenchman who lodged him in his house, —intending to go to a French interpreter every day, to learn something of our belief. Meanwhile, we were expecting from day to day that he would go away, as he was already an aged man, and that he would embark with some of his compatriots whom he saw arriving daily, and returning to their country, having completed their trading or made their purchases. But, in fine, God had chosen him and written him in the Book of his Elect. When we saw that his people did not make him waver, we received him, and had him go down to Kebec, —where, to tell the truth, he showed a disposition far different from all that one imagines of a Savage. He also gave indications of so singular a grace, that we could scarcely have believed it if we had not seen it with our own eyes. He was gentle, courteous, compliant, prompt to do a favor to any one whomsoever, never idle. He admired the beauty of our Faith, and, seeing our truths so in harmony with reason, he gladly approved them. Finding himself sufficiently instructed for Baptism, he asked for it with so cordial interest that one could not refuse him” (Relations, Vol. 16, Ch. 9, pp. 168-73).

Lalemant testifies to the intellectual acuity of the Aboriginal children, and admits he has had an awakening, as follows: “In regard to what I said about the excellence of their minds, I get proof of it from the questions they asked their master; here are some that he has communicated to me in a letter. I confess that these children are wide-awake, and that they evince a great deal of intelligence, but I would not have believed that they could reason so well, especially in the matter of our belief. Let us hear their questions. “You tell us that baptism is absolutely necessary to go to Heaven; if there were a man so good that he had never offended God, and if he died without Baptism, would he go to Hell, never having given any offense to God? If he goes to Hell, God does not love all good people, since he throws that one into the fire” (Relations, Vol. 16, Ch. 9, pp. 181-2). We have omitted other questions Lalemant lists, for the sake of brevity. The point is really about how the Jesuits learned from their Aboriginal students. Lalemant continues: “Those who read this may believe what they please, but it is true that these questions were asked by young Savage Seminarists between twelve and fifteen years old….In truth, all these queries astonish me, when I think of them as coming from the mouth of a child who is called a Savage and a barbarian” (Relations, Vol. 16, Ch. 9, pp. 183-5).

There were changes on the horizon with respect to the education of Aboriginal children, however. In 1642-43, Father Berthelemy Vimont reports to the French Provincial in Paris, as follows: “The Seminary of the Hurons, which had been established at nostre-Dame des Anges some Years ago, in order to educate children of that nation, was interrupted for good reasons, and especially because no notable fruit was seen among the Savages; our experience in beginning the instruction of a people with the children, has made us recognize this fact. Here is an occasion which has obliged us to reëstablish a Seminary in a new fashion, as it were, — but easier, and in behalf of persons, older, and more capable of instruction. God grant that the incursions of the Hiroquois may not hinder us from continuing” (Relations, Vol. 24, Ch. 7, pp. 101-03).

More tomorrow…

July 17, 2021

Today we continue with our exploration of the religious orders that carried out missionary activity in what was called New France, focusing this time on the Jesuits. As the TRC’s Final Report points out, Samuel de Champlain expected that the French colony of North America “would be populated largely by Aboriginal converts. To this end, he hoped that as Aboriginal people learned to speak French, ‘they may also acquire a French heart and spirit’” (p. 39). In other words, he envisaged a thriving Aboriginal community, who also may (not ‘must’) acquire what was valuable to French people.  

Although this probably was not the only view of the future French colony, the Jesuits seem to have pretty much embraced this approach. Their main objective was education in a broad sense, both in religious (Christian) and nonreligious subjects. The first Jesuits arrived to Québec in June of 1625. It is worth point out that, of those sent then and in the early days, including the seven who were eventually martyred), four were college and university professors, one was a surgeon, one newly ordained but fully trained, and one a helper (donné). In other words, the Jesuits sent some of their best people to the missions in New France. This aptly indicates their respect, concern, and care for the Aboriginal people they were about to encounter.

The same respect and care is indicated by the fact that the Jesuits tried to offer something—a level of education—that even in France and other European countries was not commonly available. The fact that the education was done mostly by religious groups is also understandable, since formal and widely available education in Europe grew out of monastic and cathedral schools (these are the forebears of our own university system here in Canada).  

The Jesuit’s initial focus on children’s education was eventually abandoned, for two reasons: first, because Aboriginal children were raised differently from European ones, in that they were not expected to learn formal discipline (they were free spirited); second, it was recognized that children, or even young people, had no authority or standing in the community in matters of spirituality and tradition. Therefore, the idea that adults might be evangelized or catechized through their children was seen as a mistake. The Jesuits quickly abandoned this approach to seek converts, and shifted their focus to adults. Furthermore, the original seminary environment, where Aboriginal and French children studied together, was also abandoned, as it was seen that the two groups needed different approaches in their learning.

The only major and truly traumatic event in Aboriginal communities’ lives was the ongoing ruthless and destructive war between the Hurons and the Iroquois nations. It is this, i.e., the Iroquois victory, and the accompanying smallpox epidemic, that almost completely annihilated and dispersed the Huron nation.

July 16, 2021

Today, it does not seem right to continue with history without taking some time to hear the cries of the survivors of Canadian residential schools and be in solidarity with them and their communities. Yesterday, Canada heard from Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir and others concerning the findings so far with respect to the remains of those buried in unmarked graves at the Kamloops Residential School.

The ongoing pain of these survivors is palpable. When they speak of needing to regain their dignity, one can understand why. That the cruelty and isolation they experienced in residential schools affected them so much that, in desperation, they tried to swim rivers, and walk through snow to get home, is completely believable, not only because of how the stories are told, but because the history we have read so far confirms the very close bonds within Indigenous communities, and especially between parents and children.

That these things were perpetrated by those professing a Catholic faith seems deplorable and beyond excuse. Did they know better and do so anyway? Did they relish driving others into the ground? Did they really believe this was the way to bring Christ to others (seems astounding)? Did they put their trust government policies, against their own better judgement? Were children in general given the same treatment in non-Indigenous communities, but for the Indigenous peoples, this treatment was experienced as unbearably harsh? The history so far shows that both the Récollets and the Jesuits early in the 17th century had to alter their customary disciplinary practices because these were completely foreign and unacceptable to the Indigenous peoples they encountered. What happened in this case? Were those working at the schools formed themselves so much by the desperate circumstances of disease, no money, and lack of support that they became less and less human in the process?

We cannot know what was in the hearts of the individuals running the schools, and we think judging them is not what is needed now. The effects of their actions on the survivors and their communities, and indeed, on all Canadians, must be addressed with the greatest urgency and sincerity. We applaud the careful and methodical work that can help us together gain a better understanding of what has happened and forge healing.

July 15, 2021

Well, we had promised to cover the Jesuits today, but became too interested in continuing to read Gabriel Sagard’s record of living among the Huron peoples in 1623-1624. We are not sure what you may see in this record, but we see really the first steps of a respectful dialogue, with both Franciscan friar and Aboriginal people learning about one another and coming to appreciate their mutual support and friendship.

We want to share with you some quotes that will give you an opportunity, too, to make your own judgement.

First, Sagard roots his missionary work in the scripture text from the Gospel of Matthew mentioned in chapter 3 of the TRC’s Final Report, but it is clear that he believes this commandment has come from God, and that the mission is to all the Gentiles (all nations is often understood, especially anyone outside the Jewish fold). This mission is very broad, but does not have to do with empire-building, but with a responsibility that was first given to the twelve apostles (“the Twelve”) listed in all four of the accepted Christian Gospels. Though Gabriel Sagard has not lived with Jesus, as did the Twelve, he believes he must share the knowledge of Christ, which he has received in faith, with others.

He uses the customary language of his time, of course, but he is open, too, to what the experience of life with the Huron people teaches him. He did not like their usual singing, for example, but then hears something he truly admires: “These savages [recall that we gave the origins of this word yesterday: “of the woods,” that does not necessarily have the very derogatory meaning we think of today] at their feast, hugging the kettle, were singing all together, then alternately, a song so sweet and pleasing that I was quite amazed and carried away with admiration” (Long Journey, 57). About practicing patience and enduring hardships, he says, “[I]t is only necessary to make journeys with the savages, and long ones especially” (Long Journey, 57). Besides the danger of death, he finds the hunger [he cannot get used to the new food], the unusual and unpleasant smells, the sleeping on bare earth in open country, walking through difficult terrain, exposure to the elements and insect pests, language difficulties, and no Christian companionship all difficult, and still he comments, “Yet for that matter the savages are quite kind, at least mine were, indeed more so than are many people more civilized and less savage; for when they saw me for several days almost unable to eat their sagamité [a kind of broth], so dirtily and badly cooked, they had some compassion for me and encouraged and helped me as well as they could” (Long Journey, 58).

About his host, Sagard says, “The humane conduct of my host was remarkable. Although his only covering was a bear’s skin, he made me share it when it was raining at night, without my asking; and in the evening he even arranged a place for me to sleep on at night, laying upon it a few small branches and a little reed mat which it is their custom to carry for their own use on long journeys. In compassion for my difficulties and weakness he would not let me row or wield a paddle, and this was no small labour from which to relieve me, in addition to doing me the service of carrying my things and my bundle at the rapids, although he was already well laden with his own goods and with the canoe, which he carried on his shoulder over the vexatious and painful trails” (Long Journey, 62).

Speaking of the problem of explaining Christian theological concepts to a people without those kinds of words in their language (the first word in his list is “Sanctification”), Sagard concludes that “to make a beginning there is no necessity for very learned men, but there is indeed for persons who fear God and are patient and full of love” (Long Journey, 73-74).

He further relates, “Sometimes also I visited their cemetery, which they call Agosayé, and admired the care that these poor people take of the dead bodies of their deceased relatives and friends, and I found that in this respect they surpass the piety of Christians, since they spare nothing for the relief of the souls [of the departed], which they believe to be immortal and in need of help from the living” (Long Journey, 75).

There comes a time when he and two other Récollets decide they want to build a lodge apart, rather than residing in the lodges of the Huron. The paragraphs that describe this are really quite endearing. Here is a small portion of the story:

“Then we got a lodge built to house us, in which we had hardly time to enjoy one another’s society when I saw my savages, tired of my absence, arrive to pay us a visit. This they repeated many times, and we exerted ourselves to receive and treat them so kindly and courteously that we won them over, and they seemed to vie in courtesy in receiving Frenchmen in their lodge when the needs of business put the latter at the mercy of these savages….Now having found ourselves among them we resolved to build a dwelling there, so as to take possession of that country in the name of Jesus Christ, that we might do the duties and exercise the ministries of our mission there [evangelize and celebrate the Sacraments]. For this reason we petitioned the chief,…to allow us to do so. He gave us permission after having called a council of the most notable persons and hear their opinion, and after they had endeavoured to dissuade us from our purpose, urging us rather to make our dwelling in their lodges so as to fare better” (Long Journey, 77).

The Huron, too, found some things strange. Sagard says, “[W]e also sometimes mixed small herbs with it [the broth], such as wild marjoram and other things to give it taste and savour, in place of salt and spice. But if the savages perceived that these were in it, they would not even taste it, saying that it smelt bad’ (Long Journey, 82). Sagard confirms that the Huron thought it was terrible that there were many beggars in France, but with a slightly different story than the one presented in chapter 3 of the TRC’s Final Report: “Whenever we had to go from one village to another for some necessity or business we used to go freely to their dwellings to lodge and get our food, and they received us in them and treated us very kindly although they were under no obligation to us. For they hold it proper to help wayfarers and to receive among them with politeness anyone who is not an enemy, and much more so those of their own nation. They reciprocate hospitality and give such assistance to one another that the necessities of all are provided for without there being any indigent beggar in their towns and villages; and they considered it a very bad thing when they heard it said that there were in France a great many of these needy beggars, and thought that this was for lack of charity in us, and blamed us for it severely” (Long Journey, 88-89).

What we see here is a vibrant interchange in which both Récollets and Huron people are beneficially formed by the presence of the other. The relationship between them bespeaks mutual respect and care. Sagard cannot help but see the goodness in at least some aspects of Huron life and culture, acknowledging its superiority over some aspects of French civilization, even though he also finds some things (more than Huron cuisine), quite appalling and an affront to both his French sensibilities and his Christian faith. Because of the generally positive nature of the exchange, however, the interaction of cultures described in Sagard’s Long Journey account seems quite far removed from, and a questionable ancestor of, Canada’s residential school system.

July 14, 2021

Today in the news: more unmarked graves found near a residential school. See our July 3rd post, if you have not already noticed it.

In the past few days, we have been trying to figure out how to present details from chapter three (“Residential Schooling in French Canada: 1608-1763”), so that readers could have a better context at their fingertips, in case they have not been able to read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Final Report for themselves. Overall, it would be better for readers to have access to the chapter themselves at this link: https://ehprnh2mwo3.exactdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Volume_1_History_Part_1_English_Web.pdf. Chapter 3 begins on p. 39.

     It is difficult to figure out exactly what is being said. Remember that the lead sentence of Chapter 2 was this: “Christian missionaries laid the foundation for Canada’s residential school system. On their own, missionary organizations established the earliest residential schools for Aboriginal people in Canada” (p. 25). So, one would expect a clear connection, continuity, successful and ongoing efforts from the beginning of the encounter of the Europeans with the Aboriginal peoples to the time when the Canadian government established residential schools.

Chapter 3, however, shows anything but this. Really, it outlines the unsuccessful efforts of missionaries over about 200 years, and highlights the Aboriginal resistance to the missionary’s efforts. Although the title of Chapter 3 is “Residential schooling in French Canada: 1608–1763,” the chapter begins with an earlier history, briefly stated here:

1. An unsuccessful effort in 1541-42 by Seigneur de Roberval, commissioned by the French King Francis I to inhabit “the aforesaid lands and countries and build there towns and fortresses, temples and churches, in order to impart our Holy Catholic Faith and Catholic Doctrine, to constitute and to establish law and peace, by officers of justice so that they … [the Aboriginal peoples] may live by reason and civility.” “Hunger, internal disputes, and death” caused the abandonment of the settlement in 1542. This chapter notes that “Christianizing and civilizing were formidable tasks for the small group of colonists, who had a greater interest in first eking out a living and then developing the fur trade—tasks that required considerable Aboriginal co-operation—than in converting Aboriginal people to Christianity” (p. 40).

2. Traders and explorers were more successful in their colonizing efforts. In return for “the sole right to trade in lands they were claiming for the French Crown,…they were to ‘provoke and rouse’ the Aboriginal people ‘to the knowledge of God and to the light of the Christian faith and religion’. In addition, the Aboriginal people were to be brought to ‘civilization of manners, an ordered life, practice and intercourse with the French for the gain of their commerce; and finally their recognition of and submission to the authority and domination of the crown of France’” (p. 39), but the chapter also notes the differences between Spanish, British, and French colonization: “As distinct from the Spanish or English colonial empires in the Americas, the fur-trading French were largely able to achieve their economic goals without having to coerce Aboriginal labour or make extensive appropriations of Aboriginal land. The fur trade, unlike the mines in New Spain, depended on a skilled and independent workforce. It did not require the surrender of Aboriginal lands—indeed, it could be carried out only if Aboriginal people continued to occupy and use their lands as they had in the past.

3. In 1603, Samuel de Champlain began to explore North America and he “envisaged a North American colony that would be both Christian and French. The colony would, he expected, be populated largely by Aboriginal converts. To this end, he hoped that as Aboriginal people learned to speak French, ‘they may also acquire a French heart and spirit’” (p. 39). The chapter reiterates the connection between Christianizing and civilizing (p. 39), and further states that those who colonized did seek out “the best way to francize or Frenchify the Aboriginal people” (p. 39). Champlain established a colony at what is now Québec City in 1608, and from that point until the British conquered it in 1760 (more than 100 years), it remained “the dominant European presence in what is now eastern Canada” except for a short three-year time span, beginning in 1629, when the British had control (p. 40).

Just on the basis of this portion of Chapter 3, it seems safe to conclude that efforts to convert the Aboriginal peoples to Christianity were largely unsuccessful, and the effect on culture and land possession of those same Aboriginal peoples minimal because the French did not do things in the way the Spanish or British supposedly did, at least from the period of 1541 to perhaps 1608.

Chapter 3 goes on to describe the missionary activity of several Roman Catholic Religious Orders, as follows:

1. Prior to the successful British conquest in 1760, a number of religious orders were at work in the colony of New France: “the Récollets, the Jesuits, Ursulines, and other Roman Catholic orders all attempted at various times to convert the Innu (“Montagnais,” as the French referred to them), Algonkian, and Iroquoian peoples of New France to Christianity and to the settled agricultural lifestyle they associated with civilized life’” (p. 40). The chapter states, though, that because the Aboriginal people were able to occupy and use their lands as they had, and maintained a high degree of autonomy (because the French did not have to coerce Aboriginal labour or appropriate extensive amounts of Aboriginal land), they were “much more difficult to convert” (p. 40).

The chapter talks of the religious orders separately, and we will begin with the Récollets (in English, Recollects, for their life of spiritual reflection or recollection), as follows:

2. a) Four Récollets friars (Franciscan roots, related to St. Francis of Assisi) arrived in 1615 to Champlain’s colony, full of zeal. They soon discovered that they were not going to have the same success bringing the Aboriginal people in Canada to Christ that their confrères had had in the Spanish American empire. Travelling to Aboriginal communities, these friars recognized that “the cultural gap between French and Aboriginal people was so great that it would be necessary ‘to make them men before we go about to make them Christians’” (pp. 41-2).

Putting aside for a moment what may appear to some to be an expression of cultural superiority, think about what is happening here. The Récollets could see that their zeal was going to do nothing here. Cultural barriers were too insurmountable. They needed a bridge between the extremely different cultures, and so they sent a number of young Aboriginal children to be educated in France, hoping they would become leaders in their communities on their return (p. 40).

The chapter notes that the experiment failed (four of six students died, and two felt uncomfortable in either culture on their return (p. 41). They established “reserves” (the chapter uses this term) with day schools and opened a boarding school for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children, hoping the children in the school would lead those in their home communities to Christ (pp. 40-1). Other strategies are described here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recollects. Be sure to read the section, entitled, “Relations with native populations in New France,” especially about Gabriel Sagard (additional link here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gabriel_Sagard).

In case you don’t get quite that far, though, here is something about the relationship between Gabriel Sagard and the Hurons (or Wendat/Wyandot, part of the Iroquoian peoples): “The Recollects usually had close connections to the natives. In fact, when they first arrived in New France, they openly welcomed ‘unruly’ native children within their walls in order to teach them the way of God. Even though they quickly realized that they did not have enough money to continue this mission, they still maintained relatively good relations with the natives, especially with the Hurons. As the Recollect Gabriel Sagard shows in his writings, their convent was very close to a few indigenous settlements [Was this what chapter 3 meant by using the term “reserves”?], and he himself was very good friends with some Hurons. Some even addressed him with Huron kinship terms: some called him Ayein, meaning ‘son’ and others called him Ataquen, meaning ‘brother’. He also writes about what a typical day with them looked like: he would usually eat with them, and then he would sometimes follow them as they went about their everyday lives. They taught him about their beliefs, their customs, and they taught him their language, which would later help him in creating a useful dictionary” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recollects; accessed July 13, 2021).

We fully realize Wikipedia is not the only source available. We offer this quick snapshot because of the very different pictures that might arise in the mind of someone reading Chapter 3 and then reading even this Wikipedia article about how the Récollets friars interacted with the Aboriginal people.

We are fortunate that we do not have to rely on hearsay about the experiences of at least one of the Récollets. Gabriel Sagard, mentioned above, wrote down his observations of the Huron people, and completed a dictionary of their language. This is available still in libraries, in both the original French: Le grand voyage au pays des Hurons (Paris, 1632), and in English translation as well: The Long Journey to the Country of the Hurons (Toronto: The Champlain Society, 1939). We quote here the English translation, because our French is not entirely stellar, but we also checked the French quickly. This might be a good place to note the etymology of the word “savage,” used often in Sagard’s book. It comes originally from the Latin silva, which means “a wood.” The Latin silvaticus means “of the woods.” This became “sauvage” in Old French, which means “wild,” and “savage” in middle English. It does not, for Sagard, necessarily have the same derogatory meaning we are accustomed to today.

It is not known how old Gabriel Sagard was when he came to New France in 1623. He was a lay Franciscan brother, vowed to poverty, and had a burning desire to go to the missions. He returned to France just over a year later. He opens his book with the following prayer, which helps to put his work in context, even if his viewpoint sounds somewhat overbearing to us today. One can see clearly here that his zeal is for God, not country, empire, pope, church. Given that he believes Jesus is actually the only Saviour of the World, his deep concern is for the salvation of the people, and their eternal happiness:

“To the King of Kings and Almighty Monarch of Heaven and Earth, Jesus Christ, Saviour of the World.

It is to Thee, infinite power and goodness, that I address myself, before Thee I prostrate myself with my face to the ground and my cheeks bathed in a torrent of tears ceaselessly flowing from my two eyes by reason of the grief and bitterness of my heart, which is truly broken and with reason distressed at the sight of so many poor souls without the faith and in savagery, ever sunk in the thick darkness of their unbelief. Thou knowest, my Lord and my God, that we have devoted ourselves for so many years to New France, and have done our utmost to rescue souls from the spirit of darkness, but the needful support of Old France has failed us [he means there is no money]. O Lord, our entreaties and remonstrances have served but little….Have pity and compassion then on these poor souls, bought at the price of Thy most precious blood, O my Lord and my God, so that they may be drawn out of the darkness of unbelief and turned to Thee, and, after living in conformity with Thy divine precepts until they die, may depart to rejoice in Thee for eternity, together with the blessed angels in Paradise, whither I pray Thy divine Majesty to grant me grace also to go, after having lived here below through Thy favour in the same grace, and in the observance of the vows of my Community and of Thy divine Commandments” (pp. 3-4).

Here is an excerpt from Sagard’s writings about life with the Huron people:

“I was brought with great enthusiasm right into the lodge of my savage, and since the crowd was very great in it I was forced to get on top of the platform to escape the pressure of the crowd. The parents of my savage gave me a very kind reception in their own way, and with extraordinary caresses showed me how pleased and glad they were at my coming. They treated me as kindly as they did their own child, and gave me abundant cause to praise God, when I saw how benevolent and faithful these poor people are, although without the knowledge of Him. They took care that nothing of my little stock of clothing should be lost, and warned me to be on my guard against thieves and cheats, especially the Quieunontateronons, who often came to see me in order to get something from me; for of all the tribes of savages this one is among the smartest in the matter of deceit and theft.

     My savage, who stood to me in the character of brother, recommended me to call his mother Sendoné, that is to say, my mother, and himself and his brothers Ataquen, my brother, and so the rest of his relations according to their degree of relationship, and they similarly called me their relation. The good woman said Ayein, my son, and the others Ataquon, my brother,…according to their ages, I was thus called uncle or nephew, etc., and by others who stood in no character of relationship Yatoro, my companion, my comrade, and by those who had a higher regard for me Garihouanne, great chief. You see that this tribe is not so sunk in rudeness and rusticity as one imagines” (pp. 70-71).

Among numerous chapters in his book, Sagard covers just about anything you might want to know about the Huron peoples: their daily occupations, their villages, lodges, feasts, guests, marriage, and concubinage, bearing and raising children, pastimes of the young, the appearance and disposition of the people, how they do their hair and adorn themselves, the belief and faith of the Huron in the Creator, ceremonies, health and disease, along with physicians, councils and warfare, the torture and death of prisoners, and in another book, music and dance. The differences between his culture and that of the Hurons take him aback at times, but he remains interested, detailed in his observations, and positive in his outlook.

In this period of the history, at least, what one can see from Sagard’s writings is a developing relationship of trust and respect. It is, therefore, difficult to understand what Chapter 3 has in mind when it speaks about “Each of the boarding schools of the French regime operated only a few years and never had more than a handful of students” (pp. 40-41) or “During their brief history, those schools were marked by the same conflicts and failings that eventually became the hallmark of the Canadian residential school system of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries” (p. 41) or “Parents gave their children up to the boarding-school system under persistent pressure from missionaries and as part of furthering a political alliance” (p. 42). It appears that at least one of the Récollets, was at a much more primitive stage, with no money (a vow of poverty and little of the promised support from France), and an approach which meant living and moving around with the Huron people themselves. In 1629, just fourteen years after they arrived, the Récollets left New France permanently. Sagard’s book was published in 1632.

Jesuits next….

July 13, 2021

In the news yesterday: Someone spent about four hours over this past weekend vandalizing a memorial—flowers, shoes, moccasins, and candles—at the Woodland Cultural Centre in Brantford, set up there to honour the memory of children across Canada who died while at residential schools. (See: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/residential-school-memorial-burned-1.6099840). Also in the news: Rex Murphy on “Why is it OK to harm Christian places of worship in Canada? (See: https://www.msn.com/en-ca/news/canada/rex-murphy-why-is-it-ok-to-harm-christian-places-of-worship-in-canada/ar-AAM4adt?ocid=mailsignout&li=AAggNb9).

The process of reconciliation is not going well in Canada, it seems. We need a strategy that moves us forward, not backwards, for the sake of all of us here. In keeping with our stated belief that “most people are good or trying to be good,” we also think most people—Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike—want reconciliation, and a peaceful co-existence, too. Perhaps we are naïve, but who can be enjoying the news about ongoing acts of violence these days that, simply stated, harm all of us?

We are still working on chapter three…

July 12, 2021

We’ve read another chapter of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Final Report. This one (chapter three in Section 1 of the first part of the first volume of the History) is entitled, “Residential schooling in French Canada: 1608–1763.” We have been trying to decide what course of action would be most helpful to readers: to give a general assessment of the chapter(s) we read, for which, then, readers will have no real context unless they have read what we have read; or to provide some details to give at least a taste of the kind of material presented as we go through the chapters. At least at this stage, we think details are important and so we will proceed with those, but that is going to take us an extra day or so to assemble. Bear with us, and see you tomorrow.

July 11, 2021

Chapter 2 of the first part of the first volume of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Final Report begins as follows:

“Christian missionaries laid the foundation for Canada’s residential school system. On their own, missionary organizations established the earliest residential schools for Aboriginal people in Canada. From 1883 on, they operated the national residential school system in partnership with the federal government. Although the government and the churches would sometimes clash on a variety of issues, the fact that the churches administered most of the schools until 1969 meant that their values and their goals and methods were dominant throughout much of the system’s history. Wherever throughout the world they worked, missionaries sought to transform existing cultures. This often involved undermining traditional spiritual leaders, banning traditional cultural practices, and imposing a new moral code and belief structure. For them and for the people they sought to convert, culture and spiritual belief were intertwined. The schools they operated had a central purpose: conversion to Christianity. The conversion of the ‘heathen’ lies at the heart of the Christian gospel. In the King James Version of the Bible, Christ told his followers to

    19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and

         of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

    20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I

         am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

The Christian missionaries, both Catholic and Protestant, took their inspiration from this passage from the Bible’s Book of Matthew. It was, they asserted, a Christian duty to spread the gospel to the peoples of the world. In the process, they were to make the Christian church a universal church. Indigenous people in Canada were the objects of a strategy of spiritual and cultural conquest that had its origins in Europe. While they often worked in isolation and under difficult conditions, missionaries were representatives of worldwide organizations that enjoyed the backing of influential individuals in some of the most powerful nations of the world and that came to amass considerable experience in transforming different cultures. Residential schools figured prominently in missionary work, not only in Canada but also around the world. Christian missionaries played a complex but central role in the European colonial project. Their presence helped justify the extension of empire, since they were visibly spreading the word of God to the heathen. If their efforts were unsuccessful, the missionaries might conclude that those who refused to accept the Christian message could not expect the protection of the church or the law, thus clearing the way for their destruction. Missionaries attempted to protect Indigenous people from elements of the colonial process of which they disapproved. For example, they might lobby traders to give fair prices, urge government officials to provide relief in times of need, and lecture settlers on the need to respect the land rights of Indigenous peoples. However, they were also committed to making the greatest changes in the culture and psychology of the colonized as they worked to undermine Indigenous relationships to the land, language, religion, family relations, educational practices, morality, and social custom” (pp. 25-26).

With reconciliation still on our minds, we want to ask you to think of a situation where many are waiting to hear hopeful news about a person or group of people in danger – perhaps a mining disaster has occurred, or a plane has crashed, or an earthquake has happened. You’re on the ground, helping with rescue efforts. When you hear or see the first signs of life – perhaps a distant voice or knocking sound, perhaps movement of some sort, perhaps a baby found safe under the rubble, what do you do? Do you keep this to yourself or do you tell others?

This is the type of experience Christians have been told the first apostle (emissary)—no, not Paul or Peter, but Mary of Magdala—had when she went to the tomb of Jesus to anoint his body. She didn’t expect for a moment what she was about to hear and see. Having heard the news that the Teacher (Jesus) was not there, that he had risen from the grave, she had a choice: to tell others, or keep it to herself. She ran to tell the others. What should she have done?

St. Paul had a very similar kind of experience in a way. He was, we are again told in the Christian Scriptures, going about his business (part of which was persecuting Christians) when he also had an encounter with the Risen Lord that propelled him to completely alter his course, follow Christ, and preach about the good news of Jesus Christ for the remainder of his life. He did most of his preaching outside his community (he was born and raised a Jew, but considered himself the “apostle to the Gentiles”).

Now these are the founding experiences of the Christian Church. They have nothing to do with Rome. There was no “Vatican” anywhere near the time we are talking about. St. Paul’s letters are the first Christian writings we have. They precede the Gospels by a good number of years. By the time Matthew writes his Gospel, in which is the Great Commission (“Go ye, therefore…”), Paul has long been dead, but the “telling others the good news” has continued. The Great Commission itself comes just shortly after the story of Mary of Magdala running to tell the others about the Risen Lord. The connection should not be lost on us.

It is truly unfortunate that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Final Report chooses to overlook these intimate, human experiences with Jesus, in whom Mary of Magdala, St. Paul, and many, many others recognized (and continue to recognize) “the Christ,” and treat them as though what really lies underneath them (and the Church’s missionary work as a whole) is the desire to gain control over other people’s lands and lives. Surely there is much more to this than that!

One of the things we learned very quickly in working in dialogue situations was that one should speak for one’s own tradition, and not for another’s. That principle could certainly apply in Chapter 2 on “The Churches and Their Mission of Conversion.” Instead, the writing is again one-sided and, frankly, disrespectful at times. Good, you say perhaps, we are getting a taste of our own medicine. We have had, however, five hundred years of experience now and know better, do we not? Further, this is meant to be a document about truth and reconciliation. It is difficult for us to see how this chapter serves either goal, but we remain hopeful.

July 10, 2021

Yesterday, we were raising the point that it is possible to have different approaches to reconciliation, and that one might aim to select the one that has the best chance of succeeding. On the one hand, the first chapter we have been reading in the Truth and Reconciliation Final Report on “Colonialism in the Age of Empire” seems to lean towards the strategy provided by Critical Theory, which gives a voice only to those deemed to be the oppressed in a given situation, and which has the goal of achieving freedom from enslavement and oppression, by overthrowing the power that oppresses (the theory has its roots in Marxism, which demands revolution, but ends up really only switching oppressors as a consequence). The chapter rarely admits of any other viewpoint other than that the first four hundred years of European visitation to the Americas simply entailed downsides, whether considering empires in themselves or the Christian Church’s initiatives (more specifically, the Roman Catholic Church’s initiatives) in general.

Early in the chapter, there is an acknowledgement that colonizers and colonized had a mutually beneficial relationship: “The relationship between colonists and Indigenous peoples is long and complex, reflecting changes in the interests of both and shifts in the balance of power. Throughout their encounter, both colonizer and colonized pursued their own, often changing, goals. At the beginning of this period in what is now Canada, Aboriginal peoples were in a dominant position. Not only were the European newcomers outnumbered, they also counted on Aboriginal people for their very survival. Their journeys of exploration depended on the support of Aboriginal guides. The fur trade, the major European economic activity in the region, could not have functioned without Aboriginal labour. Aboriginal people, for their part, valued many of the new trade goods and engaged in a complex set of diplomatic relations with both French and English colonial powers. In the end, however, the experience of Aboriginal people in Canada had much in common with that of Indigenous peoples in other colonized lands throughout the world. As the balance of power shifted, their rights to land and self-government were brushed aside, and they were pushed onto reserves and cut off from participation in the dynamic sectors of the economy. This colonial history has profoundly shaped Canada’s political culture and national identity, and continues to shape relations between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. The residential school system and its legacy must be set in the larger international context of colonial policies that predated the schools and have continued on after their closing. This chapter provides brief introductions to the idea of empire and colonialism, the justifications for imperialism, and the role of education in imperialism” (pp. 10-11).

The first centuries, then, are presented really as a preparation for the residential school system which was to come. Might it not have been possible to honour the positive side of this encounter, alluded to in the text itself, a little more? For example, in the oral tradition of one of our families, stories were told about the Indigenous people without whose assistance grandparents could not have survived on the Prairies. This is a concrete example of what is stated above, but it’s also more than that; it is the story of a friendship. This fact of history led, in one of our family homes, to a great deal of respect and gratitude towards the Indigenous, which has lasted over a century. To the one of us who grew up in this family home, it is very strange – really, unbelievable – to say that the entire encounter with European culture (by implication, the friendship mentioned) was disastrous for the Indigenous. This statement does not do justice, it seems, to a real life relationship that existed and became part of a family’s tradition and oral history. What would be lost by so honouring such events? Might it not encourage the Indigenous peoples to know that they are prized and appreciated at least by some, and we suspect by many more than are known and acknowledged? Might it not be helpful to know the degree to which we are not already and solely the “Two Solitudes” described in the introductory statement of Dr. Marie Wilson?

Reading further, the chapter notes that imperialism was not limited to Europeans alone. Others, such as China, Japan, and the Ottoman Empire had also expanded their territories and influence (see pp. 11-12, for example). True enough. Indeed, the practices of exploration, migration, expansion, etc., seem to us to be part of the broader human condition. One does not have to look too far in our day to find examples: consider the vast migration of peoples from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East to Europe in the last number of years; consider plans in recent years for a one-way trip to colonize Mars; consider, too, flags placed on the surface of the moon, and the sale of deeds for a piece of the moon’s surface (https://lunarland.com/moon-land/?gclid=Cj0KCQjwiqWHBhD2ARIsAPCDzakbjbMTRZWXbsblUR5YQppISg7fT9TASYvsbkDn6OKChLnMrbA9IYcaAo5JEALw_wcB). From nomads to cottage seekers, human beings are naturally on the move, it seems.

As we’ve noted, the chapter mentions numerous examples of cultures other than European ones that sought to expand their territories. Noticeably absent, however, is any seeming awareness of, or admission that, Indigenous populations also sought to expand their empires. Check out this brief article on the Incan Empire, for example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inca_Empire, or this one on the Aztec Empire: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aztecs. Here is one on the migrations (and sometimes warfare) of the Inuit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inuit. Expansion often seems to go hand in hand with other practices. This chapter of the Final Report points out the use of Indigenous labour to achieve the goals of the colonizers (p. 12). Here is an article on the five Indigenous groups in America which owned slaves: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/how-native-american-slaveholders-complicate-trail-tears-narrative-180968339/.

How would it harm a process of reconciliation to include all of this as part of the conversation? It seems to us that the Indigenous Peoples could better serve as leaders and catalysts of an ongoing discussion about how we human beings can share this earth, were they also to acknowledge their own exploits in building empires. Their voice would be even more powerful then, it seems to us. Perhaps Critical Theory would not find this satisfying as its purpose is an adversarial-style overturning of the status quo, but a process of real reconciliation, though, could use such an admission, not as an opportunity to blame the victim, but for the victim to offer healing to the victimizer. This, too, is a position of power in a way, but the power comes from mercy towards, and concern and love for the offender/other. That’s not often a popular stance in our litigious and adversarial world, but one that is central also to true reconciliation.

We wonder if, when Jenn Allan-Riley (see our blog post on July 5, 2021) asked for a stop to the burning of churches, she was also stating a preference for an alternative strategy for reconciliation, one that seeks truth certainly, but also dialogue and peace.

July 9, 2021

If you are reading this for the first time, welcome! We’re just starting into the first chapter of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Final Report.

In the first chapter of the first part of the first volume of the TRC’s Final Report, entitled “Colonialism in the Age of Empire,” there is an attempt to cover a lot in a very short time, about five hundred years in just sixteen pages. Within the chapter, separate headings introduce sections on “Empire and Colonization,” “The Doctrine of Discovery,” and “Imperialism and Education.” This is followed by a section outlining “Conclusions.”

Each paragraph, sometimes each sentence, in this chapter could inspire a much more detailed and nuanced conversation. Sometimes representation of sources could be more exact (for example, Howe on “imperium,” does not define this word exactly as it is claimed he has defined it; rather, he gives the correct definition and then goes on to say how the Romans often interpreted this definition in practice). The views represented are noticeably one-sided and so, as one reads this from the perspectives of descendants of colonists or newcomers, one is likely to have the sense quite quickly that one’s very existence in this country is a matter of unjustified oppression that simply perpetuates the disrespect and/or cultural genocide that has been going on in Canada for the past 500 years, in this view.

Our interest from the beginning, as you will see from our July 1st post, has been “to contribute to the process of reconciliation in this country that will allow all of us to go forward together in peace and mutual respect.” The comments below are provided in this same spirit and for this same purpose.

It seems to us that it may be helpful to readers of this first chapter to have some background in what is called “critical theory.” We are not by any means experts in this, but the general purpose of critical theorists is to unmask and overthrow social constructs of oppression. Here’s a Wikipedia article link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_theory#:~:text=Critical%20theory%20(also%20capitalized%20as,reveal%20and%20challenge%20power%20structures. If you prefer something more detailed, try this from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: https://iep.utm.edu/frankfur/. Describing one’s own experience of history as an oppressed people, for example, could be a means of revealing the inadequacies and injustices of a history crafted by the oppressor. The approach has the merit of allowing those who are oppressed or enslaved to fashion a narrative that faithfully (to them) describes their experience. It is easy to feel the deep hurt that grounds this chapter. This is probably the most important thing to recognize, listen to, and appreciate. Regardless of intentions, how European explorers and settlers were experienced by the Indigenous peoples of Canada must be part of the conversation.

Unfortunately, this kind of approach, though, sometimes gives validity only to one viewpoint, and is less likely to facilitate reconciliation on this account. As an alternative, an approach such as a restorative justice process—with roots both in Indigenous and Christian milieus (see, for example: https://www.rjpsc.ca/history-of-restorative-justice.html)—hears from both those harmed and those who perpetrated the harmful deeds. Together, they collectively acknowledge the harm done, figure out how to deal with its aftermath, and restore right relationships between the parties/communities.

Opportunities were missed in this first chapter to give the Indigenous peoples of Canada, especially the survivors of residential schools and Indigenous Catholics, a reassurance of the Roman Catholic Church’s fundamental respect and love for them, despite the terrible things many experienced. It is certainly fair to list a number of popes who granted spiritual authority via papal bulls over various parts of the world being explored by Europeans at that time (see pp. 15-16 with the “Doctrine of Discovery” section). It is important as well to provide a fuller historical context within which each of these papal bulls was written. Popes having concern for the salvation of all the people of the world (p. 16) may seem odd to people. However, even today, in the exercise of his pastoral office, a bishop is to show he is concerned for everyone in his diocese, whether baptized or not (see The Code of Canon Law, canon 383: https://www.vatican.va/archive/cod-iuris-canonici/eng/documents/cic_lib2-cann368-430_en.html#Art._2. This is not a matter of jurisdiction over everyone, of course, but a matter of responsibility, solicitude, and care (one does not feed only the Catholic hungry, for example). Indeed, this expectation placed upon the episcopal office is likely one of the reasons why people become so terribly upset when a bishop behaves in a despicable manner. It is precisely because a great deal is expected of him (or her, in other Christian denominations). Imagine to have the care of all the people of what you perceived to be the world on your shoulders!

Having detailed the papal bulls of Eugene IV, Nicolas V, and Alexander VI, it is quite puzzling that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission chose not to mention the documents (including a papal bull) of Pope Paul III, written just a little over 40 years later, in 1537 and 1538. Here is Sublimus Deus: https://www.papalencyclicals.net/paul03/p3subli.htm. The history is a little more complex in that another document included a serious censure (automatic excommunication) for anyone who enslaved or plundered Indigenous peoples of the Americas, and this document (though NOT the doctrinal teaching itself) was revoked a year later. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pastorale_officium. Later papal teaching affirms this same teaching concerning respect of Indigenous populations. An informative article on the general topic of the “Doctrine of Discovery” and papal teaching can be found on the CCCB website, here: https://www.cccb.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/catholic-response-to-doctrine-of-discovery-and-tn.pdf. Of particular interest perhaps will be pages 8-15. Pope Paul III’s bull is specifically discussed on pp. 14-15.

To be continued…

July 8, 2021

It’s not a night off by any means. It’s just a very meaty chapter, one we’ve read over the past days that will take us another day to ponder before responding. We’ll be back tomorrow.

July 7, 2021

The Introduction to Volume 1, Part 1 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Final Report lays out a reality of the treatment of Aboriginal people in Canada in the last century (from the later 1800s through most of the 20th century). The description is a stark one in that it details the concrete actions taken to implement a policy meant to assimilate the Indigenous peoples of Canada into what is termed the “body politic.” Although one might be able to imagine a sense in which this could be understood as wanting to make Indigenous people fully a part of society, that view would appear to be naïve. The suggestion is made that the Canadian Government had something far more sinister at heart, which was to remove any possibility that the Indigenous peoples of the country could remain a distinguishable entity. In other words, the goal of assimilation was not a hospitable one but a destructive one, at least towards a culture.

It is not clear what all the motivations for this approach were, but one seems to be to eliminate the need for Canada to uphold its treaty obligations, which were perhaps costly: “These measures were part of a coherent policy to eliminate Aboriginal people as distinct peoples and to assimilate them into the Canadian mainstream against their will. Deputy Minister of Indian Affairs Duncan Campbell Scott outlined the goals of that policy in 1920, when he told a parliamentary committee that ‘our object is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic’” (TRC, Final Report, Volume 1, Part 1, p. 4).

While these words alone may not define exactly what Scott meant, the policy and associated concrete actions appeared to make it clear. “These goals were reiterated in 1969 in the federal government’s Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy (more often referred to as the “White Paper”), which sought to end Indian status and terminate the Treaties that the federal government had negotiated with First Nations. The Canadian government pursued this policy of cultural genocide because it wished to divest itself of its legal and financial obligations to Aboriginal people and gain control over their land and resources. If every Aboriginal person had been ‘absorbed into the body politic,’ there would be no reserves, no Treaties, and no Aboriginal rights. Residential schooling quickly became a central element in the federal government’s Aboriginal policy” (TRC, Final Report, Volume 1: The History, Part 1, p. 4).

Christian churches feature in a small way in this introductory section. It is noted that, “When Canada was created as a country in 1867, Canadian churches were already operating a small number of boarding schools for Aboriginal people. As settlement moved westward in the 1870s, Roman Catholic and Protestant missionaries established missions and small boarding schools across the Prairies, in the North, and in British Columbia. Most of these schools received small, per-student grants from the federal government.” It is also stated that “Roman Catholic, Anglican, United, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches were the major denominations involved in the administration of the residential school system. The government’s partnership with the churches remained in place until 1969, and, although most of the schools had closed by the 1980s, the last federally supported residential schools remained in operation until the late 1990s” (TRC, Final Report, Volume 1: The History, Part 1, p. 4).

The Introduction to Volume 1, Part 1 also describes the conditions Aboriginal children experienced in residential schools, as follows: “For children, life in these schools was lonely and alien. Buildings were poorly located, poorly built, and poorly maintained. The staff was limited in numbers, often poorly trained, and not adequately supervised. Many schools were poorly heated and poorly ventilated, and the diet was meagre and of poor quality. Discipline was harsh, and daily life was highly regimented. Aboriginal languages and cultures were denigrated and suppressed. The educational goals of the schools were limited and confused, and usually reflected a low regard for the intellectual capabilities of Aboriginal people. For the students, education and technical training too often gave way to the drudgery of doing the chores necessary to make the schools self-sustaining. Child neglect was institutionalized, and the lack of supervision created situations where students were prey to sexual and physical abusers” (TRC, Final Report, Volume 1: The History, Part 1, pp. 4-5).

The remainder of the Introduction names and explains the content of each of the volumes of the Truth and Reconciliation Final Report (2015). The titles of the volumes are as follows: Canada’s Residential Schools: Volume 1, Part 1: The History: Origins to 1939; and Volume 1, Part 2: The History: 1939 to 2000; Volume 2: The Inuit and Northern Experience; Volume 3: The Métis Experience; Volume 4: Missing Children and Unmarked Burials; Volume 5: The Legacy; Volume 6: Reconciliation.

It is difficult to write an introductory chapter to such a large and complex history. The Introduction here is brief and straightforward. By way of facilitating reconciliation, the document might have anticipated questions arising in a reader’s mind:

1) When assigning the term “cultural genocide” to what the Government of Canada did, is any distinction made between, for example, the motives of the two former federal government officials (Dr. Peter Bryce, who became medical officer of health in the Department of Indian Affairs in 1904, and Duncan Campbell Scott, who became the department’s superintendent of education in 1913 – see our July 3 post for more info)? Both were apparently supporting the assimilation policy but each one demonstrated a very different concrete attitude towards the Indigenous peoples in Canada. While it is perfectly understandable that the experience of the Indigenous peoples was the same regardless of intentions, which would on that account imply a certain irrelevance to the question, still it seems important to make distinctions about intentions, if one truly has reconciliation in mind.

2) Is it possible that the Government of Canada, albeit patronizing and pervaded by cultural conceit, actually thought it was doing something good? “Genocide” seems to imply hatred. Paternalism and cultural conceit are not the same as hatred, though they can produce exactly the same results nevertheless. It seems to us that, once again, it is worth acknowledging the possibility that the evil perpetrated was not always intended as such. Charles Darwin’s theories, for example, had become commonplace by the end of the 19th century, but even today, scholars are not in agreement about whether or not this English naturalist deserves now to be called a racist. See this article on the University of Cambridge website: https://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/learning/universities/darwin-and-human-nature/race-civilization-and-progress. If the Government of Canada had adopted the work of such a revered scientist, even possibly without understanding him correctly (as he was also apparently vehemently opposed to slavery), might this explain what they were trying to do, without certainly justifying it? Stating observations is extremely important. Explaining what one observes is a very complicated issue.

3) The Introduction states that, prior to residential schools, religious institutions had already set up boarding schools. It would be interesting to know what these missions and boarding schools were like, and how they were perceived by the Indigenous peoples nearby. Government-run residential schools were set up in 1883.

4) Perhaps only some Canadians will be familiar with what they believe to be a history of relations among Indigenous peoples themselves. “The Mohawk were our mortal enemies,” commented a Mi’kmaq speaker on June 19, 2021. This assumes a significant amount of conflict. The Algonquin and the Mohawk were apparently in conflict also, as were the Iroquois and the Wendat. Differing assessments of the relationship between the migrating Inuit and the Dorset are available online. Perhaps oral and written traditions do not agree on this history, but the Commission might have anticipated, and addressed in advance, questions concerning why relations of violence among the Indigenous are different from relations of violence between non-Indigenous and Indigenous peoples.

Perhaps, however, these questions will be addressed in the coming chapters. One final thing for today: The description of the Reconciliation volume is interesting in light of some of today’s controversies. The paragraph speaks of apologies of the churches as a past event: “The volume demonstrates that although apologies from Canada and the churches were important symbolic events, reconciliation also requires concrete measures to repair the damaged relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the Crown and to establish respectful relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples” (TRC, Final Report, Volume 1: The History, Part 1, p. 6). It seems appropriate that the TRC’s work and writings be more widely disseminated for many reasons, just one of which is so that statements about a lack of such an apology from the Roman Catholic Church will not be presented as truth, nor serve as an impediment to reconciliation.

July 6, 2021

Congratulations to Governor-General designate Mary Simon on her appointment. That she is the first Indigenous person to hold the position is a milestone, but more important is her expressed desire “to be a bridge between the different lived realities that together make up the tapestry of Canada,” Simon said. “I can relate to all people no matter where they live, what they hope for or what they need to overcome.” We wish her well in her new role, and with her ongoing French language lessons. The issues for our country and reconciliation are pressing.

In the news today is an article about the large amounts of money raised by the Catholic Church for renovating or building new buildings. See CBC Saskatoon reporter Jason Warick’s article here: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatoon/catholic-buildings-fundraising-residential-school-survivors-1.6090650. The article seems to suggest the Catholic Church thinks buildings are more important than residential school survivors. What an unfortunate suggestion! Is such an article interested in promoting truth, seeking reconciliation and justice, or provoking more anger?

We’ve said before in this blog that it is not the case that the entire Catholic Church in Canada was involved in running residential schools. Warick lists all kinds of dioceses that have raised money to reach the total of $292 million he cites (updated to more than $320 million recently), more than half of which had nothing whatsoever to do with residential schools. The Archdiocese of Toronto, for example, did not run residential schools and is not listed among the Catholic entities that were required to raise the $25 million for residential school survivors. Neither is London, nor Moncton, Montreal, St. John’s, Ottawa, or Windsor. Should these have raised money for the other dioceses who did run residential schools? If what is being said now is that the whole Catholic Church is responsible, despite the fact that only about a quarter of dioceses were parties to The Settlement Agreement, how is this fair? Even so, Catholics all across the country were given the opportunity to contribute to a collection that ultimately fell short of its goal on December 8, 2013.

Another piece of the puzzle left out is that there are about 30 religious orders included in the Catholic Entities list, who have their own governance structures, and while recognized by the institutional Church, are not accountable to it in day-to-day living. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops never ran residential schools. This Conference also is not listed in the Catholic Entities who were party to The Settlement Agreement.

It would be helpful if articles on the important topics we all face today would leave out the insinuations and unjust accusations. In addition, while some are calling for boycotting of Sunday Masses, this only makes it more difficult to fundraise, does it not? From where do the vast amount of the funds ultimately come, if not from the people in the pews? Regarding the failed fundraising campaign of 2013, perhaps the newly appointed Governor-General designate will be able to assist with a better understanding of this, as she served as a Board member.

Back to history tomorrow…

July 5, 2021

Thank you, Jenn Allan-Riley, daughter of a residential school survivor, for asking for the burning of churches in Canada to stop. Thank you for pointing us again away from violence and towards solidarity and reconciliation instead. Thank you for reminding us how we can stand in solidarity with you.

For those of you interested in the financial payments already made by the Catholic entities party to the Settlement Agreement, and also the Diocese of MacKenzie-Fort Smith, see this pastoral letter from Bishop Mark A. Hagemoen, dated May 1, 2016: https://www.cccb.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/10.-SProduction18052217010-B.pdf.

July 4, 2021

III. Catholic Church and Taking Responsibility for Its Role in Canada’s Residential School System (continued from yesterday’s post)

On June 4, 2021, CTV reported that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “is calling on the Catholic Church to ‘step up’ and take responsibility for its role in Canada’s residential school system.” Prime Minister Trudeau noted that, as a Catholic himself, he was “deeply disappointed by the position that the Catholic Church has taken now and over the past many years.” He further cited his personal request in 2017 of Pope Francis to “move forward on apologizing, on asking for forgiveness, on restitution, on making these records available, and we’re still seeing resistance from the Church, possibly from the Church in Canada.” He continues: “I think it’s going to be a really important moment for all of us, particularly Catholics across the country, to reach out in our local parishes, to reach out to bishops, cardinals and make it clear that we expect the Church to take up, to step up and take responsibility for its role in this, and be there to help in the grieving and the healing, including with records, that is necessary. It’s something a number of other churches, the United Church and others, have done. It’s something we are all still waiting for the Catholic Church to do.” He further states that, “If it is necessary, we will take stronger measures, but I think the pressure that we’ve seen by many Catholics like myself over the course of the past many days, wondering why the Catholic Church in Canada is silent, is not stepping up, is not showing the leadership that quite frankly is supposed to be at the core of our faith of forgiveness, of responsibility, of acknowledging truth. These are things that I am very hopeful that the Catholic Church will very soon change its approach on, and if it doesn’t…, we have tools that we can use, because truth is at the heart of understanding our past and preventing further damage to the future. That’s why it was called the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and we need to have truth before we can talk about justice, healing, and reconciliation.” Here is a YouTube recording of the Prime Minister’s address: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=scpYvSjPMmU.

Very disturbing words, indeed, and certainly a strong message directed towards the Catholic Church in Canada. Fear-inspiring words, too, as a Roman Catholic Prime Minister made accusations against the Church and backed these up with veiled threats. Had our Prime Minister declared open season on Catholics? Although he may have intended to direct his comments to the institutional Roman Catholic Church, he did not choose these words and spoke instead to the Church as a whole, of which he and we are members, as are any number of Indigenous people.

The fears were well founded, it seems, as several Christian churches, some Catholic, have been burned to the ground in the weeks since (despite the fact that these were worship spaces for Christian Indigenous people), other churches have been defaced, and at least one politician has been calling for punitive action: “hurting them where it hurts, in their wallet”: (https://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/iqaluit-mayor-wants-land-tax-exemption-on-churches-removed-over-residential-schools-1.5487184). The silence from residential school staff has been called “deafening”, said one letter to the editor of the National Post: https://nationalpost.com/opinion/letters-to-the-editor-the-silence-from-those-who-worked-at-residential-schools-is-deafening. Under the present circumstances, what kind of reception would any person who had ever worked at a residential school receive if they came forward?

When a Prime Minister states that he is “deeply disappointed by the position that the Catholic Church has taken now and over the past many years,” one wants to know what exactly “the position” is that the Catholic Church is supposed to have taken, and to what period of years does the “many” refer?

The Chair of the TRC, Justice Murray Sinclair, in his opening statement, mentions “The Settlement Agreement,” which he calls “the largest legal settlement in Canadian history.” On the Canadian government’s own website is a link to this agreement, within which is a further link listing all the Catholic entities involved in the Settlement: See first this link: https://www.rcaanc-cirnac.gc.ca/eng/1450124405592/1529106060525. Then, under “About the Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” find “Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement”: http://www.residentialschoolsettlement.ca/settlement.html. Here, one can find the Settlement document itself, then separate schedules showing the parties to the Settlement. Schedule C lists all the Roman Catholic entities involved: http://www.residentialschoolsettlement.ca/Schedule_C.PDF. The Settlement document is dated May 8, 2006. One can also find here, in Schedule O-3 a document called “The Catholic Church Entities Agreement.” Within this, in Part II: DEFENCE AND RESOLUTION OF IRS [Indian Residential Schools] ABUSE CLAIMS, is spelled out something very important about what the term “Catholic Entities” means, that is: “2.2 In this Part, a reference to one or more Catholic Entities means only those Catholic Entities which were associated with the IRS from which a claim arises, or within whose
territorial jurisdiction the IRS is or ever was located and is a party to this Agreement.” Was the Prime Minister unaware of all these things?

Now, the parties listed within the Catholic Entities document and the Releasees document (Schedule H) comprise 18 Roman Catholic dioceses. The remaining Catholic Entities are religious orders. How is sitting at the table as a party to the Settlement Agreement something about which the Catholic Church deserves criticism? Is this not a very concrete action of taking responsibility?

The topic of a papal apology has been raised as well. It is not the case that a pope cannot apologize. It is the case that a pope has already done so, on April 29, 2009. We remember when Chief Phil Fontaine went to Rome and received the words of sorrow and regret from Pope Benedict XVI (we lived in northern Saskatchewan at the time). Here are some of those words, and the responses of the delegation to what was deemed by them at that time an “apology”: https://www.cccb.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/2009_quotes.pdf. Here is further information, also available on the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website: https://www.cccb.ca/indigenous-peoples/resources/indian-residential-schools-truth-reconciliation-commission/pope-benedict-xvi/.

In addition to this expression of sorrow and regret, Catholic Church entities have made any number of apologies to the Indigenous people in Canada, dating at least as far back as 1991: https://www.cccb.ca/indigenous-peoples/indian-residential-schools-and-trc/. One of the complications here, perhaps, is a perception that some may have that the Roman Catholic Church as a whole was involved in running residential schools. It may be a surprise to readers that there are many more Roman Catholic dioceses in Canada than the 18 who had some association with residential schools. “Currently in Canada, there are 59 dioceses of the Latin Catholic Church, 13 eparchies and 1 exarchate of the Eastern Catholic Churches, as well as 2 ordinariates. Each diocese, eparchy, and ordinariate is distinct and autonomous” (see this link to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website: https://www.cccb.ca/the-catholic-church-in-canada/directory-of-dioceses-eparchies-ordinariates/). In former times, there have been more dioceses in Canada. Even if one takes today’s smaller number of dioceses, it is approximately one-third of Canadian Catholic Latin-rite dioceses that have had any association with running residential schools. It is important to clarify that the participation in the running of residential schools did not involve the entire Church in Canada, and it would be truly unfortunate if Prime Minister Trudeau’s words were understood to mean this, since this would not be true.

Since it is the case that each diocese, eparchy, and ordinariate is distinct and autonomous, then each one involved is the one to make the formal apology. To say that the Catholic Church is the only one not to have made a formal apology is not correct. The pope is the Bishop of Rome, as others are bishops of Canadian dioceses. In his “primacy” as pope, he is primarily a figure of unity, and occasionally he exercises a juridical (administration of ecclesial law) role in the service of unity. He is not the boss of the other bishops, and not the head of the Catholic Church in the sense of a kind of Chief Executive Officer (CEO). “The Roman Pontiff, as the successor of Peter, is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity of the bishops and of the multitude of the faithful. The individual bishop, however, is the visible principle and foundation of unity in his particular church, fashioned after the model of the universal Church. For this reason each individual bishop represents his own church, but all of them together in union with the Pope represent the entire Church joined in the bond of peace, love, and unity” (Second Vatican Council, Lumen gentium 23).

How can apologizing in any number of ways for the past 30 years be construed as NOT taking responsibility? And, how is it that a papal apology made and accepted in 2009 is no longer acceptable? What has changed?

To be continued again…

July 3, 2021

This process of reflection may seem very slow, but these very first pages of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Final Report: Volume I, raise several important issues that have a bearing on what is happening in Canada these days. Here are some of our thoughts:

I. Missing Children and Unmarked Graves:

We mentioned yesterday that the fourth volume of the TRC’s Final Report (2015) already indicates the Commission was aware of this issue. In the Introduction, the following description appears:

“The Missing Children and Unmarked Burials Report addresses three interrelated questions that were added to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s mandate: how many children died at the schools, what were the conditions that led to their deaths, and where were they buried? The report demonstrates that Aboriginal residential school students died at rates higher than non-Aboriginal students. It also demonstrates that the government failure to provide adequate funding, medical treatment, nutrition, housing, sanitation, and clothing contributed to this elevated death rate. In addition, the report makes it clear that the government had been advised of the implications of its policies and presented with options—which it chose to ignore—that would have reduced the school death rates” (Introduction, p. 6).

Tuberculosis was a main cause of death. One can find today (July 3, 2021) a description of an interchange between two former federal government officials (Dr. Peter Bryce, who became medical officer of health in the Department of Indian Affairs in 1904, and Duncan Campbell Scott, who became the department’s superintendent of education in 1913), concerning how to address the rampant tuberculosis within the Indigenous school population. They shared a general belief in the government’s overall plan for assimilation of the Indigenous population, but differed greatly on the specific strategy to use regarding the health of children in residential schools. Here is the link: https://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-news/the-policy-battle-that-set-the-stage-for-a-century-of-residential-school-death-misery-grief. In Dr. Scott Hamilton’s article (link posted yesterday, and here again), more details of Dr. Bryce’s assessment are reported: https://ehprnh2mwo3.exactdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/AAA-Hamilton-cemetery-FInal.pdf. For brief articles on these officials, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Bryce and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duncan_Campbell_Scott. For Dr. Bryce’s report on the state of student health during his tenure as medical officer of health, see “The Story of a National Crime,” by P. H. Bryce and published initially in 1922 at http://caid.ca/AppJusIndCan1922.pdf.

Given that the TRC already knew about such situations of unmarked graves, and that presentations concerning its work had been made across the country, why did it come across in the news that this was an unknown story?

II. Initial Reports of Mass Graves

When the first reports concerning the discovery of the remains of 215 children were made on May 28 of this year, who among us did not envision a large hole in which had been indiscrimately thrown all 215 of those children? Even if one questioned whether this could actually be true, still the image, reminiscent of other terrible stories of mass graves around the world, burned in our minds. How awful it must have been particularly for those Indigenous communities most closely associated with the Kamloops school to think of this context as the final resting place of their treasured loved ones! How awful, too, the thought that such a resting place might have implied violent deaths perpetrated by school officials or staff, who hoped to keep hidden forever their evil deeds? No wonder there has been so much anger erupting on the basis of such thoughts!

But was the statement true? We were able to find online this article from CTV, published on May 28, 2021: https://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/we-do-not-want-this-to-be-hidden-remains-of-215-children-discovered-on-site-of-former-residential-school-1.5446837. The Guardian, the Washington Post, and the NY Times all picked up the story. All speak of “mass graves.”

On June 5, 2021, Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Kukpi7 Rosanne Casimir clarified that the remains located were in “unmarked,” not “mass” graves. Here is the link: https://www.squamishchief.com/bc-news/casimir-says-tkemlups-find-is-series-of-unmarked-graves-not-a-mass-burial-3848382. Chief Casimir deserves to be commended for making the correction. The Guardian and Washington Post have since posted amendments, saying that they had erroneously reported the finds as “mass graves,” rather than “unmarked graves.” Perhaps the NY Times has done the same, but we were unable to find the correction easily.

There’s quite a big difference, at least in our minds, between the images of “mass” and “unmarked” graves. There is also a significant difference in the suppositions we seem to make when we think of what occurred prior to someone being buried in these different contexts. “Mass” graves already implies a value judgement of a malevolent intention causing death, and likely, a cover-up as well. It can easily and justifiably evoke anger, though not necessarily violent actions in response. “Unmarked” graves can rather spark questions, such as: Why are the graves “unmarked?” Was this the general custom at the time? Does it indicate negligence, or a lack of respect for those buried there (in other words, would others-the non-Indigenous, for example-be treated differently)? Was there some unknown circumstance that prevented the graves from being marked? Was there another way of recording/marking such deaths other than gravestones or other markers familiar to us today? Might markers have once been there, but the graves, untended for some time, and now overgrown, no longer have markers that may have once been there? This term calls for no immediate value judgement but for an openness to further insights. Investigations are ongoing and it is very important that they continue until such time as the truth be known.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Final Report already points to the difficulty of this task. What is needed now is patience, and factual and measured reporting, all in the service of the concrete task of reconciliation.

To be continued tomorrow…

July 2, 2021

We’ve begun to read Volume I, Part I: Canada’s Residential Schools: The History, Part 1: Origins to 1939. The Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission [TRC] of Canada. Volume 1. It begins with statements from each of the TRC Commissioners: the Chair, Justice Murray Sinclair, Dr. Marie Wilson, and Chief Wilton Littlechild.

Each of their statements has the benefit of already having heard everything that we are about to read, and so reflects this viewpoint in conclusions drawn. Each one acknowledges the harmful legacy of the residential school system. Each one commends the courage and resilience of those who have spoken about their experiences, and of the importance of focussing now on the future that we all have the responsibility to forge in this country. All of the statements appear hopeful and focussed on actions that can now bring about reconciliation and redress lasting effects of the residential school system on Indigenous individuals, families, and cultures.

Justice Sinclair describes what happened with respect to Canada’s treatment of the Indigenous people in the most detail, naming residential schools “a key component of a Canadian government policy of cultural genocide.” He states, “[S]even generations of Aboriginal children were denied their identity through a systematic and concerted effort to extinguish their culture, language, and spirit.” During a period of over 100 years (1867 to the late 1990s), he says, “over 150,000 First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children” were placed in residential schools. Justice Sinclair also notes that “legal actions were joined into a massive class action, resulting in the largest legal settlement in Canadian history,” a settlement that also “called for the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”

Justice Sinclair suggests reconciliation is at least a matter of creating “the relationship of mutual respect promised in the Royal Proclamation of 1763” and of holding to “the assurances given at, and reflected in, the many Treaties signed between the Crown and Canada’s Indigenous people, most since Confederation.” He notes that “words of truth and expressions of apology are vitally important,” but also points to “much work…on the journey ahead.”

Dr. Wilson describes the ninety-four Calls to Action presented by the TRC as a “road map” for reconciliation. She points to “Two Solitudes” of the Indigenous and non-Indigenous and to “the glaring educational, economic, and socio-political gaps between them.” Commissioner Chief Wilton Littlechild indicates the need for “better relationships with mutual respect,” and sees Treaties as “a basis for a strengthened partnership” and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as “a true framework for reconciliation.” Along with these tools, he sees “lifelong learning, holistic education” and working “very, very hard on unity” as means for achieving positive change.

All three Commissioners agree that reconciliation is a matter of concrete action.

Within the introductory section which follows the three statements from the Commissioners, a list of the titles of the six volumes of the final Truth and Reconciliation Report (2015) appears, as follows:

Volume 1: The History
Volume 2: The Inuit and Northern Experience
Volume 3: The Métis Experience
Volume 4: Missing Children and Unmarked Burials
Volume 5: The Legacy
Volume 6: Reconciliation

Volume 4’s title particularly caught our eye because it indicates that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was already aware of the existence of unmarked graves prior to 2015 when its final report was published. For anyone interested right away in pursuing this topic, here is the link to an article on the topic that appears on the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation website: https://ehprnh2mwo3.exactdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/AAA-Hamilton-cemetery-FInal.pdf.

July 1, 2021

It’s July 1st, 2021 – Canada Day – and we are beginning a journey. It is one we have started once before, several years ago, but could not finish because of other responsibilities. Now it seems right to start again with renewed vigour and commitment.

We want to read the entire report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, now available on the website of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (located at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, MB): https://nctr.ca/records/reports/. Under “About,” and then “History of the TRC,” it is said that “[t]he Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) was created through a legal settlement between Residential Schools Survivors, the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit representatives and the parties responsible for creation and operation of the schools: the federal government and the church bodies.”

“The TRC’s mandate was to inform all Canadians about what happened in residential schools. The TRC documented the truth of Survivors, their families, communities and anyone personally affected by the residential school experience. This included First Nations, Inuit and Métis former residential school students, their families, communities, the churches, former school employees, government officials and other Canadians.”

“The TRC concluded its mandate in 2015 and transferred its records to the safekeeping of [the] National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR).”

We said up in paragraph one it “seems right.” News in the last month or so has told us mass graves (more recently, unmarked graves) have been found on the grounds of former residential schools, the prime minister of the country has directly addressed the Catholic Church, even the entire Church in Canada, implying it has not sufficiently taken responsibility for the actions of the past, Catholic and Anglican church buildings have either been burned to the ground or defaced (several attended by members of First Nations communities themselves), demands for papal apologies have been made, First Nations representatives have been accepted for a papal audience, and Canadians are divided on whether or not to celebrate Canada Day. It seems right to get going on this project.

We are coming to this project as Roman Catholics. We have both been Roman Catholic since we were baptized as infants, but have also been practicing our faith for more than sixty years. We are also theologians, each with a Master of Divinity, either a Bachelor of Sacred Theology and a Master of Theology or a Licentiate in Sacred Theology, and each with a Ph.D. in Theology. We have worked for between two and four different bishops in this country between us, including a Cardinal (now deceased). We have known Roman Catholics from all over the world, and studied with them. Some of our classmates or colleagues have gone on to become bishops or chancellors of dioceses. We also have either gone to school with, been taught by, or worked with many in a variety of religious orders that work, or have worked, in this country. We have known people who taught at residential schools. We only say all of this to note for you that we are quite immersed in Roman Catholic tradition and life. We would not say that we are proud to be Catholic; rather, we are grateful to be Catholic.

We have worked in ministry in northern Saskatchewan. Some from the Indigenous communities within the diocese where we worked attended courses we taught (they were also Roman Catholic). We were invited to their homes and shared meals with them. We attended some of their community events. We still remember their names and faces, and think of them often and with fond remembrances. We met some of the leadership among these Indigenous communities and invited them for meals to our home. We were quickly introduced to the tensions between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities but, having lived for so long in Toronto, and with our backgrounds, we could not support what we saw as racism on both sides of the camp. We were invited to speak at the First Nations Diocesan Circle (also all Indigenous members and Roman Catholics), and found that enlightening. Others we knew in ministry had far more experience than we did serving First Nations communities, and we learned a great deal from them as well.

So, we enter this journey, this pilgrimage perhaps, with a good deal of background, the practice of seeing things through, the ability to read and think, the habit of asking questions and of seeking to understand historical context before jumping to conclusions, and the unwillingness to assume that everybody in the past was a much worse character than any of us in the here and now. We still believe most people are good or trying to be good, though terribly misguided at times. Our goal is to become informed Catholic adults who can contribute to the process of reconciliation in this country that will allow all of us to go forward together in peace and mutual respect.

If this approach interests you, great! If not, we wish you the very best in your own life journey.

We’re going to start with Volume I, Part I (only 1025 pages!): Canada’s Residential Schools:
The History, Part 1: Origins to 1939. The Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Volume 1.

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