ACHA Statement on the Discovery of Unmarked Graves at Canadian Residential Schools

The American Catholic Historical Association has issued a statement on the recent discovery of unmarked graves at Canadian residential schools located on First Nations lands in British Columbia and Saskatchewan:

With deep sadness we have read over the last month about the discovery of nearly a thousand unmarked graves at residential schools that functioned on Tk’emlups te Secwepemc and Cowessess First Nations lands in Canada during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The tragedy of these deaths, the majority of which are thought to be children, is compounded by the fact that most happened on the watch of men and women Catholic religious who ran those schools, as well as bishops of the dioceses in which they were located.

The bones of the dead cry out for our attention and we commend Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission for investigating harms done to First Nations communities, rooting out evidence wherever it may be found, and working toward understanding this traumatic chapter in human history. We are mindful, as well, of the deplorable violence inflicted upon Native communities in the United States, even and especially by Catholics.

As historians who study the Church, in the United States and elsewhere, we advocate for greater transparency and open access to church archives. In the hope of some measure of justice, we urge all authorities to heed the appeals of Native and First Nations communities to make the documentary record available, and to support them in understanding those records. We stand ready to assist in that effort.