By Jake Cardinal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – On January 28, 2022 it was announced by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) that the organization would be creating a new registered charity to advance healing and reconciliation initiatives.
The Indigenous Reconciliation Fund will be operated by a six-member board of directors, which includes Wilton Littlechild, a former commissioner on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC).
Other Indigenous people part of the board include: Giselle Marion, born and raised in Behchokǫ̀, NT; and Rosella Kinoshameg, an Odawa/Ojibway woman from the Wikwemikong unceded First Nation Territory.
Natale Gallo, Claude Bédard and Barbara Dowding are also members of the corporation.
“The Bishops of Canada are fully committed to addressing the historical and ongoing trauma caused by the residential school system,” said Bishop Raymond Poisson, President of the CCCB. “In moving forward with our collective financial commitment, we will continue to be guided by the experience and wisdom of Indigenous peoples across the country”.
The CCCB has said that they will accept contributions granted to this end by the 73 dioceses across the country in order to fulfill the $30 million commitment made by the Canadian Bishops in September.
Furthermore, the organization has said that the fund will publish annual reports and will be subject to an audit by an independent accounting firm each year. Any administrative costs will be on top of the $30 million being raised and will not be deducted from the principal amount.
On top of that, the CCCB said that they will also establish Regional and/or Diocesan Granting Committees in order to identify projects that further the fund’s priorities, review applications and request funds to support such projects.
While specific disbursement guidelines will be informed by additional input from Indigenous partners, the CCCB intends to contribute to the following priorities:
- Healing and reconciliation for communities and families;
- Culture and language revitalization;
- Education and community building; and
- Dialogues for promoting Indigenous spirituality and culture.
During the 19th and 20th centuries, Indigenous children in Canada were forced to attend residential schools: boarding schools funded by the Canadian government and run by Catholic Church institutions that aimed to assimilate indigenous youth into Euro-Canadian culture.
Overall, some 150,000 First Nation, Inuit, and Métis children were forced to attend these schools between the 1870s and 1997.
The resulting trauma caused by the schools led to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement in 2007 and a formal public apology by (then) Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2008.
Additionally, a seven-year inquiry by the TRC that concluded in 2015 determined that over 4,000 children died while attending these schools, many due to abuse, negligence, or disease.
Littlechild, former Grand Chief of the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations, and a residential school survivor said that in addition to physical and sexual abuse, as a form of denigration they called him #65. In an interview that aired on “Sixty Minutes” he told Anderson Cooper, “They didn’t kill my spirit. So, I’m still Cree. I’m still who I am. I’m not 65. My name is Mahigan Pimoteyw. So, they didn’t kill my spirit.”