WCR PHOTO | GLEN ARGAN
Fr. Ken Foster, provincial superior of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, offers an apology for Oblate involvement in Indian residential schools.
EDMONTON – The good that came out of the residential schools "came at an unbearable cost to the First Nations," says the provincial superior of the Catholic men's order that ran many of the schools.
Father Ken Forster told the Truth and Reconciliation Commission March 29 that he was renewing the apology the Oblates of Mary Immaculate made to aboriginal people for their involvement in residential schools that was first offered at the 1991 Lac Ste. Anne Pilgrimage.
Forster pledged once more that the Oblates would "journey in solidarity and mutual respect with all the First Peoples of Canada."
Forster is superior of OMI Lacombe Canada, the Oblate province which, in 2003, united several Canadian Oblate provinces working in ministry outside of Quebec.
His was one of dozens of "gestures of reconciliation" made during the four-day TRC national event in Edmonton.
After settlers came to Canada, they left aboriginal people "deeply wounded" by their attitude "of cultural and religious superiority and the imposition of colonial power," Forster said.
"For the last many decades the Indian residential schools have come to epitomize the harm of that colonial relationship."
The schools violated "the primal bond inherent within families as a matter of policy" by separating children from their families. As well, the schools operated on the premise that European languages, traditions and religious practices "were superior to those of First Nations," he said.
Because of that, Forster said, the residential schools contributed to the settlers' domination of aboriginal culture and language as well as to undermining the integrity of the family.
"We wish to apologize for failing to protect the children in our care, and for the times when we placed the reputation of the institution above the well-being of the students."
Society and the Church have been shocked by abuse which took place in the schools, he said. "These acts were inexcusable, intolerable and a profound betrayal of trust.
"We deeply, and very specifically, apologize to every victim of such abuse."
Forster said the Oblates' hope for future relationships with aboriginal people is that their journey forward is one of friendship, equality and respect. "We commit ourselves to that deeper service Jesus Christ modeled for all Christians when he washed the feet of his disciples."
The Oblates ran or worked at 14 of the 15 Catholic residential schools that operated in Alberta. Altogether, 25 schools were run by various Christian churches in the province under a federal government mandate.
Alberta has an estimated 12,000 residential school survivors, the second largest number of any province.