Bishop Stephen Hero
Diocese of Prince Albert
The Prince Albert Daily Herald published an article on Saturday, October 28, entitled “Senate Committee shocked by difficulties faced gathering residential school records from Prince Albert area” sourced from Windspeaker.com. On behalf of my diocese, I would like the opportunity to comment.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Prince Albert expresses sorrow at the abuses of the past which occurred within the Residential School system. The diocese is dedicated to the Calls to Action set forth by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). We are committed to partnering with Indigenous peoples to work toward reconciliation.
For the sake of clarity, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Prince Albert did not own or operate any Residential Schools in its territory and so has relatively few archival documents relating to the schools. In 2016, copies of these documents were sent to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and are now accessible in the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation in Winnipeg.
The Office of the Treaty Commissioner contacted the diocese in June 2021 and shared their decision to research the history of the Indigenous Residential Schools (IRS) in the diocese. They asked to consult our archives. We welcomed members of their research team in July 2021, discussed their project further, gave them a tour of our small archive, and showed them the few boxes of documents relating to the history of the Residential Schools. A list of the records in the boxes was given to them to assist in their research.
Our staff showed the researchers an example of a parish sacramental register from a reserve which once had a Residential School. As it recorded celebrations of baptisms, confirmations, weddings, and funerals in the community we pointed out to the researchers that there are records of funerals of children who died while at school and that registers like this might also help their research. We noted, however, that these registers contain the personal family information of many persons – not only Residential School children. We indicated that these registers were not copied and sent to the TRC as they are parish records of whole communities and contain this personal information of many people.
The research team’s project description was very broad, and it was not clear how their team planned to store, handle, or disclose personal information that they would access. So, we proposed a confidentiality agreement which made it their responsibility to ensure that they would seek the permission of Residential School survivors (or their family, in the case of recently deceased IRS survivors) before they disclose personal information. The agreement does not forbid publication but puts the onus on the researchers to seek consent for disclosure of personal information only.
We were not asked to reconsider or renegotiate this agreement at any point.
So far, the research team has only asked for permission to access copies of 3 sacramental registers in the Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan. Permission was granted. Although sacramental registers are not normally copied, we eventually allowed them to make a copy when they informed us that they wanted to translate them from French into English.
We have a small, dedicated staff at the diocese and I am proud of the professional and kind service they provide to those who come looking for assistance. We have helped many Indigenous persons find information about themselves and their family history. And we are currently working with several Indigenous groups on Residential School projects. In one case our staff spent the better part of the year locating the funeral records and places of burial of Residential School students which were then shared with that group. We hope that we are contributing to healing and reconciliation of families and communities in this way.
We will continue to deal with the important questions around archives and records as one part of the journey to understand and repair the damaging legacy of Residential Schools.
The Most. Rev. Stephen A. Hero is the Bishop of Roman Catholic Diocese of Prince Albert.