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Oblates’ management of Indian Residential Schools

Update – November 3, 2022

We have now identified 62 Indian Residential Schools once managed by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (Oblates).

In August 2022, we relied upon “School Narratives” prepared by the Canadian government to identify 57 Indian Residential Schools once managed by the Oblates. We have recently confirmed the Oblates’ management of 3 additional Indian Residential Schools in Alberta:

  • St. Augustine (aka Smoky River), 1898-1908
  • St. Joseph’s (aka Dunbow), 1884-1922
  • Lac La Biche (aka Notre Dame des Victoires), 1863-1898

The Oblates acknowledge the St. Augustine and St. Joseph’s Indian Residential Schools as separate institutions in their “list of the 48 schools in which the Oblates worked.” The Oblates’ list omits the Lac La Biche Indian Residential School (1863-1898) – though includes an Indian Residential School (Blue Quills) in Lac La Biche/Saddle Lake/St. Paul, Alberta, 1931-1969.1The Oblates’ list omits the following Indian Residential Schools altogether: Amos #106, Anahim Lake #029, Brandon #046, Chesterfield Inlet #077Fort Pelly #127-A, Fort Simpson #066, Forth Smith #069, Inuvik #071, Lac La Biche #017, Pointe Bleue #116, Sept-Iles #117, Whitehorse #057. Finally, it took some digging to connect this entry in the OMI list to the TRC list:  St. Therese de l’Enfant Jesus, Guy Hill, MB, 1926-1971. Relying on the School Narrative for Guy Hill, the dates correspond with the opening of an Indian Residential School in Sturgeon Landing, SK in 1926 (TRC # 137) and the relocation of the school to The Pas, MB in 1952 then Clearwater Lake (TRC #057).

Recently the Canadian government disclosed that it hadn’t prepared School Narratives for 4 Indian Residential Schools – including these 3 additional Oblates’ Indian Residential Schools.

We have pulled together some background information on these Indian Residential Schools from various sources – including Bilingual One-Page Summaries prepared by the Canadian government.

Besides these three additional Indian Residential Schools once managed by the Oblates, we observed that the NCTR’s online archive includes separate Authority Records for the Cross Lake Residential School (Cross Lake, MB) and the Notre Dame Hostel (Cross Lake, MB) – institutions which we had counted as one Indian Residential School in August 2022.2The Truth and Reconciliation Commission reported that these institutions “appear to have been part of a linked administrative structure” and so were treated as a single entity (vol 4, p. 140). We will now treat these institutions as distinct Indian Residential Schools. The NCTR’s online archive also includes separate Authorty Records for the Guy Hill Residential School (The Pas, MB) and the Sturgeon Landing Residential School (Sturgeon Landing, SK) – institutions which we had counted as one Indian Residential School in August 2022.3The Sturgeon Landing Indian Residential School (Sturgeon Landing, SK) burned to the ground in September 1952 and re-opened as the Guy Hill Residential School (The Pas, MB) later that year. We will now treat these institutions as distinct Indian Residential Schools.

The addition of the St. Augustine, St. Joseph’s and Lac La Biche, and the distinction of the Sturgeon Landing vs Guy Hill and of Cross Lake vs Notre Dame, brings the number of Indian Residential Schools operated by the Oblates to 62 – see Open Data Spreadsheet (ODS) file.

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 is 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.

UPDATE: From the School Narratives and other sources – including the Oblates’ official list – we have confirmed that the Oblates managed at least 62 Indian Residential Schools.

To assist researchers and others interested in the history of Indian Residential Schools, we are publishing a compressed file of 57 School Narratives of the 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 these Indian Residential Schools.
  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 Indian Residential Schools covered in the 57 School Narratives, evidence contained in the “Religious Groups” section is sufficient to confirm the Oblates’ management. Accordingly, we have converted 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)

Alternative names

Though the IRSSA (Schedules E/F) assigned a single name to every Indian Residential School, School Narratives often identified other names by which these institutions were known over the course of their operation (under headings like “Name of school and variants” or “Other names known as (AKAs)”).

We have converted this section of the School Narratives into a machine-readable dataset with these data fields:

Table 2. Alternative names for Indian Residential Schools managed by the Oblates.
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.

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

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 the “Principals/Administrators” section of the School Narratives into two machine-readable datasets with these data fields:

Table 3. 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 48 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 Indian Residential Schools in Canada, we are publishing machine-readable datasets based on information extracted from 57 School Narratives.

We provide preliminary information about 3 additional Oblates’ Indian Residential Schools elsewhere. The addition of the St. Augustine, St. Joseph’s and Lac La Biche, and the distinction of the Sturgeon Landing vs Guy Hill and of Cross Lake vs Notre Dame, brings the number of Indian Residential Schools operated by the Oblates to 62.

Credit

Creative Commons License
This work is made available under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Please credit Paul Allen, paul@hartallen.com.

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