Oblates’ management of Indian Residential Schools

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Background

The Canadian government and Catholic entities, such as the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (Oblates), have agreed recently to release additional documents relating to their operation of Indian Residential Schools to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR).

On January 20, 2022, the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Canada agreed to transfer approximately 875,000 documents to the NCTR, including 11 School Narratives that the federal government had prepared as part of the Independent Assessment Process (IAP) under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA).

On July 15, 2022, the NCTR summarized its initial review of Oblate Archive in Rome, one year after the Oblates had agreed to expedite access to records of 48 Indian Residential Schools. The NCTR reported having found “the names of 400 Oblates who worked in residential schools.” It’s unclear when – or even if – the NCTR intends to publish some or all of these names.

The NCTR also reported “the Oblates are taking additional steps to accelerate access to personnel files in a way that complies with relevant privacy legislation and Indigenous knowledge and social protocols. It has been a long-standing practice to keep personnel records sealed until 50 years after an Oblates’ passing. An updated agreement will retire this policy and provide accountable access to personnel files.” It’s unclear when the NCTR might be given access to Oblates’ personnel files and whether the NCTR intends to publish any part of any of these files.

Accordingly, we have undertaken to extract and make readily accessible whatever information about the Oblates’ management of Indian Residential Schools contained in the School Narratives.

Datasets

The joint NCTR-Oblates statement of July 5, 2021 indicates that the Oblates operated 48 Indian Residential Schools. Our examination of the School Narratives that the NCTR has published so far, however, confirms that the Oblates had a hand in managing at least 57 Indian Residential Schools. This discrepancy is of a piece with the confusion surrounding the identification of Indian Residential Schools.

To assist researchers and others interested in the history of Indian Residential Schools, we are publishing a compressed file of School Narratives for 57 Oblates’ Indian Residential Schools downloaded from the NCTR website and machine-readable (Tab-Separated Value) datasets based on these School Narratives:

  1. Confirmation of Oblates’ management of at least 57 Indian Residential Schools in Canada.
  2. Identification of individual managers in Oblates’ Indian Residential Schools.

Confirmation of Oblates management

Evidence of the Oblates’ management of Indian Residential Schools is most readily found under the “Religious Groups” heading of the School Narratives. Additional details may be found under other headings, for example:

  • Dates Managed by Church
  • Written Agreements
  • Principals/Administrators

In the case of the 57 Indian Residential Schools of interest, evidence contained in the “Religious Groups” section is sufficient to confirm the Oblates’ management. Accordingly, we have converted only this section of the School Narratives into a machine-readable dataset with these data fields:

Table 1. Religious groups associated with the Oblates’ management of Indian Residential Schools.
Data Field Description
IRS_NAME Name of Indian Residential School
TIMEFRAME Date (YYYYMMDD) or Period (YYYYMMDD-YYYYMMDD), where “XX” denotes an unspecified value for the Month and/or Day.

“n.d.” denotes an unspecified value for  the start and/or end of the Timeframe.

RELIGIOUS_GROUP Religious Group and its association with the Indian Residential School
REFERENCE Reference to primary source(s)

Identification of individual managers

Information about individual managers of Oblates’ Indian Residential Schools is most readily found under the “Principles/Administrators” heading of the School Narratives. Additional details may be found under other headings throughout the School Narratives.

We have converted only the information in the “Principles/Administrators” section of the School Narratives into two machine-readable datasets with these data fields:

Table 2. Individuals associated with the Oblates’ management of Indian Residential Schools.
Data Field Description
IRS_NAME Name of Indian Residential School
TIMEFRAME Date (YYYYMMDD) or Period (YYYYMMDD-YYYYMMDD), where “XX” denotes an unspecified value for the Month and/or Day.

“n.d.” denotes an unspecified value for  the start and/or end of the Timeframe.

MANAGEMENT_POSITION Manager’s Position(s). Multiple positions may be assigned to an individual within a timeframe.
LAST_NAME Manager’s Surname
GIVEN_NAME Manager’s Given Name(s) or Initial(s)
RELIGIOUS_OFFICE Manager’s Religious Office
RELIGIOUS_AFFILIATION Manager’s Religious Affiliation
GENDER Inferred from Religious Office or Given Name
COMMENT Accompanying Comment
REFERENCE Reference to primary source(s)

We extracted a total of 977 records from the “Principals/Administrators” section of the School Narratives. Records are sorted by IRS and TIMEFRAME in the first dataset; records are sorted by LAST_NAME, FIRST_NAME and TIMEFRAME in the second dataset. The second dataset supports the identification of Managers who held positions in multiple Indian Residential Schools.

Notes:

1. TIMEFRAME: In a small number of entries, we have had to do our best to resolve ambiguous terms like “from at least”, “c. summer of”, “(3 months)”.

2. MANAGEMENT_POSITION: We have consolidated some of the variants used to describe management positions, for example:

Table 3. Consolidation of variants used to describe management positions in Oblates’ management of Indian Residential Schools.
Variants Consolidation
Acting, Acting Principal, Temporary Principal Acting Principal
Assistant, Assistant to Principal, Assistant Principal Assistant Principal
Sister Superior, Superior Superior

3. RELIGIOUS_AFFILIATION is limited to religious affiliations appended to Managers’ names (e.g. Father John Doe, O.M.I., Sister Jane Doe, S.G.M.) in the “Principles/Administers” section of the School Narrative. About one-third (339/977) of the records include a RELIGIOUS_AFFILIATION for the Manager. Information in other sections (e.g. “Religious Groups” above) support inferences about the religious affiliations of Managers in the other two-thirds of records.

4. Users are encouraged to check database entries against the original School Narratives.

Conclusion

The Canadian government and Catholic entities, such as the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (Oblates), have agreed recently to release additional documents relating to their operation of Indian Residential Schools to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR). These documents include personnel records of Oblates who managed and staffed Indian Residential Schools. It’s uncertain when – or even if – the NCTR will publish any part of these personnel records.

Meanwhile, the Canadian government has released – and the NCTR has already published most – additional School Narratives that include basic information about the Managers of Indian Residential Schools.

To assist researchers and others interested in the Oblates’ management of 57 Indian Residential Schools in Canada, we are publishing machine-readable datasets based on information extracted from the School Narratives.

Credit

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This work is made available under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. If you use it, please credit Paul Allen, paul@hartallen.com.