Mount Saint Vincent University apologizes for ties to residential school system

Ramona Lumpkin, interim Mount Saint Vincent University president and vice-chancellor, gathered with a group of Indigenous community representatives, including residential school survivors, First Nation community leaders, Elders, MSVU L’nu Advisory Circle members, and university representatives for a ceremony of apology and commitment. Provided/MSVU

Increased funding for Indigenous students and more Indigenous course content are two of the commitments Nova Scotia’s Mount Saint Vincent University made Wednesday as a part of its apology for ties to the Canadian residential school system.

Drumming and singing were featured as a part of the school’s apology and commitment ceremony at Mount Saint Vincent’s on-campus wikuom – also known as a wigwam – in Halifax.

During the ceremony, interim university president Ramona Lumpkin noted that the school’s founders and previous owners, the Sisters of Charity Halifax, had members who staffed residential schools in Nova Scotia and British Columbia.

“We will walk with Indigenous community members on a healing journey, recognizing that the truth needs to be heard and acknowledged in order to advance long-term sustainable change,” Lumpkin said in a statement.

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Sisters of Charity members were stationed at the Shubenacadie Residential School, which was open from 1930 to 1967 about 60 kilometres north of Halifax, and the Cranbrook Residential School in southeastern B.C. from the late nineteenth century to 1970.

In the text of its apology, the university says its responsibility extends to actions – and inactions – shared by other Canadian universities.

“We educated people who worked at the schools and others who took their place in a society dismissive of Indigenous treaties and rights,” it says.

“For many years, we did not address the exclusion of Indigenous youth from the benefits and advantages of a university education. We were often ignorant, sometimes simply silent, about the damage done to children by the residential schools: our professors did not teach about this history.”

Click to play video: 'Investigation and search of former Shubenacadie residential school site underway'
Investigation and search of former Shubenacadie residential school site underway

Joined by Indigenous community leaders, residential school survivors and university representatives, Lumpkin said the school’s Indigenous advisers made it clear the institution should continue to work to build programs and services to benefit Indigenous people.

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The apology comes after the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation in British Columbia announced in May it had used ground-penetrating radar to locate the remains of more than 200 children long believed missing from the residential school that operated there between 1890 and 1969. Since then, other Indigenous nations have announced finding unmarked graves using similar search methods.

“We apologize to all of you who are survivors of residential schools, to your families and communities, and to all Indigenous peoples,” Lumpkin said. “Each recovery of a child’s unmarked grave has deepened our grief at the immense injustice carried out across our country, as children were torn from their language, their culture and their families.”

Lumpkin went onto describe Mount Saint Vincent’s commitments to the Indigenous community, including the reinstatement of an Elders in Residence program which will allow Indigenous Elders to be a part of the campus community.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 20, 2021.

The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419) is available 24 hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience.

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