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Vancouver Catholic school reckoning with founders' role in residential schools

Last Updated Jun 4, 2021 at 11:35 am PDT

(Courtesy lfabc.org)
Summary

Vancouver's Little Flower Academy says it will change how it teaches about residential schools, describes its founders

Over 1,000 alumnae have demanded the school reckon with the role the Sisters of St. Ann played in residential schools

Emotional support or assistance for those who are affected by the residential school system can be found at Indian Residential School Survivors Society toll-free 1 (800) 721-0066 or 24 hr Crisis Line 1 (866) 925-4419.

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — A Vancouver Catholic school founded by the order of nuns that staffed the Kamloops residential school says it will be changing how it “teaches and communicates about residential schools” after 215 children’s remains were found last month.

The all-girls Little Flower Academy was founded by the Sisters of St. Ann in 1927. In addition to staffing the Kamloops Indian Residential School, the order founded and operated a residential school in Duncan. The nuns staffed many others in the province including St. Mary’s Indian Residential School, Kuper Island Indian Residential School, and Lower Post Indian Residential School. Little Flower Academy is now run by the Jane Rowan Society which took over in 1990.

The school issued a statement Thursday outlining plans to change the curriculum in an effort to advance reconciliation. This comes on the eve of a “peaceful memorial,” planned by alumnae, for the children whose remains were discovered in unmarked graves on the site of the former residential school.

“Our particular thoughts and prayers are with the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation, other affected Indigenous communities, and with all who lost family members and loved ones. We also pray for the wisdom to learn from past mistakes and to find paths towards reconciliation,” the statement begins.

“Over the last several days, we have received information that is both shocking and distressing. We have started the process to take action that will move us towards reconciliation.”

First, the school says it has engaged an Indigenous “Knowledge Carrier,” and cultural anthropologist, and has initiated dialogue with local First Nations.

“We believe the first step is to engage with those who have suffered and survived the abuses of our colonial past,” the statement reads.

The school lists a number of planned changes to the way it teaches students about the residential school system, colonialism, and the widespread, intergenerational impacts on Indigenous people.

One of the specific changes the school commits to is “acknowledging the role of our school’s founders, the Sisters of St. Ann, when teaching and talking about residential schools.” Another is to centre the voices and experiences of survivors. However, the school also says they will “strive” to teach students about Indigenous histories and cultures in a way that does not exclusively focus on trauma and suffering.

The school also says it will reexamine how it describes itself, and diversify its library.

“We will update our website and the physical History Wall at LFA. We will further expand our library’s Indigenous collection to elevate the voice of our First Peoples. We will reflect on the wording of our Mission and Vision at the school,” the statement says.

Finally, the school says it will welcome alumnae who plan to gather at 10 a.m. Friday.

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Alumnae demand changes

This statement comes after more than 1,000 alumnae signed a letter to the school demanding changes in light of the horrific discovery in Kamloops.

Several of those demands appear to have already been partially met including updates to the section of the website that describe the Sisters of St. Ann. That section of the website now includes a statement on Truth and Reconciliation, and positive descriptions of the order’s history have been removed.

However, it does not, “acknowledge and detail the role of the Sisters of St. Ann and the Catholic church in the Residential School System. This should include survivor statements made available from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings and a list of residential schools that the Sisters worked at or operated.”

The letter also asks the school to ask the Sisters of St. Ann for a formal apology, saying an earlier one was not adequate.

“In 2014, this statement did not take responsibility for the actions taken by the Sisters nor did it reference the hundreds of children who died in their care,” the letter reads.

Additional actions alumnae have suggested the school should take include financial reparations, land acknowledgments, and a series of town hall meetings.

The final pages of the letter contain a list of names of the children who are known to have died in residential schools operated by the order.

“Hundreds of others remain unnamed.”