Bishop unsure how residential school funds will be paid
Saskatoon’s Roman Catholic bishop says there’s a “moral obligation” to come up with the remaining $21-million Catholics across Canada agreed to pay residential school survivors, but he isn’t sure they can do it.
“We tried,” Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon Bishop Don Bolen said in an interview Wednesday. “I don’t have a strategy for how that’s going to happen – $21.3-million is a lot of money.”
That’s not good enough for former residential school student Grace Aisaican.
“You were part of the problem, and now you’re backing out?” she asked.
Aside from the principle of honouring the agreement, services are urgently needed. Many survivors and their families remain traumatized and that money could do a lot of good, she said.
Aisacan, now a support working in Saskatoon for residential school survivors, thinks the involved Catholic institutions and their members could come up with the money.
“They don’t have any money set aside? I think they should do what they said they’d do. We’re living with the impacts,” she said.
“It’s really not fair.”
Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations Chief Bobby Cameron lauded Bolen’s work on the file and his sincere efforts to move toward reconciliation. However, when it comes to honouring the financial agreement, he said, “We support our survivors. They say it should be paid. They need it.”
The 50 Catholic entities in Canada paid earlier amounts of $25-million and $29-million. The final $25-million payment was to be collected through fundraising efforts. Only $3-million or so was donated across Canada, Bolen said. In the Saskatoon diocese, two collections were taken and raised a total of just $44,000.
“I would share the disappointment about how that went,” Bolen said.
The Vatican is not a potential source of funds, as it’s the Canadian institutions who are parties to the agreement, he said. In addition, the Vatican is not as wealthy as people think, and devotes many of its resources to some of the world’s poorest countries, he added.
Locally, an annual appeal across the diocese raises more than $1-million annually, including a $125 per plate Bishop’s Dinner fundraiser at the cathedral on May 13. Bolen said diverting funds from that pot would lead to cuts in the church’s outreach work with refugees, youth and others. The new cathedral also requires substantial payments, he said.
Bolen noted there were no residential schools in the Saskatoon area, but the diocese voluntarily signed onto the financial agreement out of moral obligation.
Bolen also noted several ways the diocese has tried to implement the calls for reconciliation. These include a council of 10 church and indigenous and non-indigenous church leaders, a workshop on missing and murdered indigenous women, a day of reconciliation in schools, a series of spirituality talks in churches by elders, and the June 13 unveiling of a plaque at the cathedral to acknowledge its presence on Treaty 6 territory.
“We want to be a part of the healing and reconciliation,” Bolen said.
Cameron called for a national review of the “failed” system used to evaluate residential school survivor claims.
The process was designed years ago to compensate former students with minimal re-traumatization. With thousands of people testifying and the formal process winding down, Cameron said the system failed due to the actions of some unscrupulous lawyers, jurisdictional issues, incorrect deadline dates, administrative flaws and other inconsistencies.
Cameron said efforts to move toward reconciliation must continue. Everyone, including First Nations, other governments, churches and the general public, should continue to work toward that goal, he said.