The Diocese of Victoria has had a long history of building relationships with Indigenous Peoples since the early missionaries first travelled to this territory in 1785. As a member of the Corporation of Catholic Entities Party to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement (CCEPIRS), the Diocese remains committed to relationship building in response to the Calls to Action presented in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Report.
Use the menu options above to explore how the Diocese of Victoria was involved in the TRC while it was happening, and how it continues to respond to its Calls to Action.
Beyond the framework of the TRC’s Calls to Action, the general philosophy of the Diocese of Victoria can perhaps be best understood through the words of Pope Francis: “The Church will have to initiate everyone—priests, religious and laity— into this ‘art of accompaniment’ which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other”. (Evangelii Gaudium, para.169). As our Bishop said in a 2018 report to CCCB, “To achieve truth moving toward reconciliation… requires, in my humble opinion, deep listening and long meaningful relationships”.
The commitment by members of the Diocese of Victoria, under the leadership of our Bishop, to continue developing dynamic relationships with Indigenous people has resulted in such things as:
- Regular invitations from Indigenous people for our Bishop to perform Baptisms, offer prayers during funeral services, lead healing workshops, and attend gatherings. Invitations such as these have priority in the Bishop’s calendar
- The use of the parish hall at Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in Langford for Nuu-chah-nulth cultural nights
- The return of Mission Island to the Ka:’yu:’k’h’/Che:k’tles7et’h’ (Kyuquot) First Nation
- The participation of laity and clergy in an evening of truth, reconciliation, healing, and affirming the path of friendship in August 2021
In the words of our Bishop: “The opportunity for grace before us now is a commitment to accompaniment. We humbly acknowledge the pain of the past and we accept responsibility for the role we have played in the history of Residential Schools. With the help of the Creator, the path forward is hopeful as we move forward in the light of a new tomorrow.”
This page was last updated on September 25, 2023.
During the TRC
As a Diocese in which there were Catholic-run residential schools, we supplied all the archival information and records we had as requested by the TRC.
Because of the large number of Indigenous people on Vancouver Island, many of whom would be unable to travel to National Events, a TRC Regional Event was held in Victoria on April 13-14, 2012 (only one other TRC Regional Event was held, in Whitehorse). The Executive Assistant to the Bishop (who was appointed as Chancellor later that year) was part of the Working Group that helped to organize the event. Activities the Working Group planned and ran included:
- Archival displays
- Gestures of Reconciliation Session
- Church Listening Area
- Education Day
- Morning prayer
Our Bishop (Richard Gagnon at the time) made a statement and apology during the event.
Our Bishop, along with the other Bishops of BC and the Yukon, sent a letter to the Catholics of BC and the Yukon, inviting them to participate in the TRC National Event held in Vancouver from September 18 – 21, 2013.
Apologies and Committments
"The Government of Canada is working with representatives from the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement All-Parties Table (IRSSA All Parties Table) to advance the development and implementation of the Covenant of Reconciliation. The IRSSA All Parties Table is made up of signatories to the IRSSA. It includes representatives from the Assembly of First Nations, Anglican Church of Canada, Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC), Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Jesuits of Canada*, Our Lady of Guadalupe Circle*, Presbyterian Church of Canada, and United Church of Canada. Justice Canada continues to be involved with the IRSSA All Parties Table in a supporting role.
The IRSSA All Parties Table has finalized a Draft Covenant of Reconciliation which identifies principles for working collaboratively to advance reconciliation... The IRSSA All Parties Table will reconvene to discuss feedback on the Draft Covenant of Reconciliation in Summer 2023." (https://www.rcaanc-cirnac.gc.ca/eng/1524503097736/1557513982301)
Many view the encyclical issued by Pope Paul III in 1537 as the first repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery
CCCB issued “The “Doctrine of Discovery” and Terra Nullius: A Catholic Response” on March 19, 2016, which “considers and repudiates illegitimate concepts and principles used by Europeans to justify the seizure of land previously held by Indigenous Peoples and often identified by the terms Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius
CCCB issued a press release after their plenary in September 2022, saying they had “initiated conversations with the Vatican about the desire of many Indigenous Peoples to hear the Church address historical the policies and principles often referred to as the “Doctrine of Discovery”, and are actively working with the Vatican with the goal of issuing a new statement.”
On March 30 2023, the Holy See released a statement on the “Doctrine of Discovery". The statement affirms:
“In no uncertain terms, the Church’s magisterium upholds the respect due to every human being. The Catholic Church therefore repudiates those concepts that fail to recognize the inherent human rights of indigenous peoples, including what has become known as the legal and political ‘doctrine of discovery’.”
The joint statement further emphasizes that the ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ is not part of the teaching of the Catholic Church and that the papal documents under scrutiny by some scholars – particularly the Bulls Dum Diversas (1452), Romanus Pontifex (1455) and Inter Caetera (1493) – have never been considered expressions of the Catholic faith. At the same time, it acknowledges that these papal bulls did not adequately reflect the equal dignity and rights of Indigenous Peoples; that they were manipulated for political purposes by competing colonial powers; and that Indigenous Peoples suffered the terrible effects of the assimilation policies of colonizing nations.
- In March-April 2022, Pope Francis met with an Indigenous Delegation to Rome. On April 1, 2022, he apologized: "For the deplorable conduct of those members of the Catholic Church, I ask for God's forgiveness and I want to say to you with all my heart: I am very sorry. And I join my brothers, the Canadian bishops, in asking your pardon." (https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/events/event.dir.html/content/vaticanevents/en/2022/4/1/popoli-indigeni-canada.html)
- In July 2022, Pope Francis made a Penitential Pilgrimage to Canada "to meet the Indigenous peoples to express to them my closeness and my sorrow, and to ask for forgiveness — to ask for forgiveness — for the harm done to them by those Christians, including many Catholics, who, in the past, collaborated in the forced assimilation and enfranchisement policies of the governments of the time." (https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/audiences/2022/documents/20220803-udienza-generale.html)
- Our Bishop was involved in the many CCCB discussions leading up to the delegation and the visit
- He did interviews with local talk radio CFAX1070 to discuss the delegation to Rome that preceded the visit, and after the locations the Pope would visit were announced
- The Diocese funded survivors and their families who wished to attend the visit
- Two members of the Pastoral Centre staff (the Director of Faith Formation and Evangelization and the Executive Assistant to the Bishop and the Chancellor) volunteered at the events in Edmonton
- Then-Bishop Richard Gagnon on April 14, 2012 “As the Roman Catholic Bishop of this local Church, I apologize for the harm done and the role the Church has contributed toward the painful legacy of Residential Schools” (https://www.rcdvictoria.org/indigenous/statement-by-the-bishop-of-victoria-for-the-trc-regional-event-april-14-2012)
- Bishop Gary Gordon on June 3, 2021: “On behalf of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Victoria, I apologize for the harm caused due to our complicity involved in the operations of the residential schools.” (https://www.rcdvictoria.org/indigenous/special-announcements/statement-of-apology-and-commitment)
- Our Bishop has been an active member of the Providence Health Care Society since 2014. Providence has numerous initiatives that promote reconciliation and address anti-indigenous racism (eg, https://iwr.providencehealthcare.org/programs/indigenous-wellness-program/), coordinated through the office of their Vice President, Indigenous Wellness & Reconciliation
- Following the release in November 2020 of the “In Plain Sight” report on Indigenous-specific racism and discrimination in B.C. Health Care, our Bishop arranged for Harley Eagle, an Indigenous Cultural Safety Facilitator with Island Health, to speak to the Diocesan Health Care Committee
- The Diocesan website has a dedicated section on Indigenous Relations, where we share news and information with all members of our Diocese. New posts are also shared via email and in parish bulletins. Some educational resources and opportunities we’ve shared include:
- Archdiocese of Toronto’s Background for Catholics on Residential Schools, adapted with permission for our Diocese
- Archbishop Donald Bolen’s “Journey through Advent 2021: Towards Healing & Reconciliation”
- James Bay United Church's online course on Indigenous and Treaty Rights on Vancouver Island
- The Diocesan website has our land acknowledgement on every webpage, and many staff members also include it on their business cards and/or email signatures. The Diocese also provides guidance to parishes and groups that want to develop and use their own land acknowledgements
- Since 2011, the Diocese has had an ongoing contract with “Returning to Spirit”, an Indigenous-led non-profit, to offer 1-day Seeds of Reconciliation and 4-day Roots of Reconciliation and Advancing Reconciliation workshops in our Diocese.
- From 2012 – 2019, trips to First Nation communities were a regular activity of our campus chaplaincy program (eg, https://bccatholic.ca/voices/amanda-achtman/this-is-what-indigenous-catholic-reconciliation-can-look-like). College and university students engaged in practical service, dialogue, and learning from Elders, while sharing the Catholic faith in various forms and ways. We hope to restart these trips in the near future.
- In 2016, our Bishop wrote the Pastoral Letter "Our Majestic Lands" to all the faithful of the Diocese in collaboration with Qwaqumulwhut and H:umuth (Joan and Jerry Brown) of the Snuneymuxw First Nation “as an invitation to an essential dialogue that needs to take place with Indigenous brothers and sisters”
- In 2018, the campus chaplain offered the “100 Years of Loss” educational program to university and college students. The curriculum was supplemented by visits from local Indigenous speakers.
- After the Kamloops announcement in May 2021, the Diocese directed all parishes to read the Bishop’s “Statement of Apology and Commitment” during the weekend liturgies and to add an intercession to the Prayers of the Faithful
- The Diocese is currently contracted with Kairos to offer the Blanket Exercise in every parish in our Diocese. Some schools are also offering them to parents, and there are plans to offer the program to post-secondary students through our campus chaplaincy program
- The campus chaplain facilitates and organizes opportunities for post-secondary students to attend Indigenous cultural events, such as the South Island Powwow and Nuu-Chah-Nulth Culture Nights
- Our Bishop has given numerous talks and messages on the themes of truth and reconciliation to groups such as the BC Yukon State Council of the Knights of Columbus, The Diocesan Catholic Women’s League Diocesan Council, etc.
- The annual Diocesan Faith Days, which are talks/workshops offered to everyone in the Diocese, have often been on the themes of truth and reconciliation:
- 2017: Gwen Point
- 2018: Roy Henry Vickers
- 2021: Sr. Kateri Mitchell & Deacon Harry Lafond
- 2022: Archbishop Don Bolen
The staff of the Diocese includes those working at the Catholic Independent Schools of the Diocese of Victoria (CISDV).
- In 2006, our Bishop (Richard Gagnon at the time) was one of the founding members of the Assembly of Western Catholic Bishop (AWCB) Ad-Hoc Committee on First Nations Ministry. Our current Bishop (Gary Gordon) was also a founding member, and continued to serve on the Committee and it successors until 2016. The mandate of the committee has included providing education and orientation to people providing ministry to Indigenous people, and keeping the AWCB abreast of Indigenous issues.
- The annual Diocesan Faith Days, which are often on themes of truth and reconciliation (see above), are mandatory professional development for employees of the Diocese
- Diocese of Victoria clergy and staff are encouraged and supported (for example, with paid time off) to participate in the educational opportunities listed above, as well as more in-depth opportunities appropriate for clergy and staff – eg:
- Indigenous Pastoral and Lay Ministry Education program
- University of Alberta’s “Indigenous Canada” online course
- The Catholic Independent Schools of the Vancouver Archdiocese (CISVA) Truth & Reconciliation professional development day in November 2021, featuring the Honorable Steven Point and Dr. Kevin Lamoureux as keynote speakers
- Diocesan employees have the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation off. In 2022, employees were encouraged to volunteer at the South Island Powwow for the day if they were able to do so
- The Diocese has a contract with Kairos to offer the Blanket Exercise for CISDV staff
- The Diocesan Office of Faith Formation and Evangelization regularly shares resources related to truth and reconciliation with CISDV schools
- Training for paid and volunteer catechists in the Diocese includes learnings from “Listening to Indigenous Voices” and a related recommended reading list
- Our chancellor made a presentation to clergy and staff about “Residential Schools on Vancouver Island” after the Kamloops announcement
- Our Bishop led the CISVA Catholic Education Leadership Days retreat in 2021, on the theme of “Truth and Reconciliation”
- One of the CISDV principals volunteered to act as the Federation of Independent Schools Association in BC representative on the Professional Standard 9 Awareness Working Group. (Standard 9 is new and honours the TRC CTAs and UNDRIP). The working group, whose purpose is to promote and amplify the importance of Standard #9 and build capacity within BC K-12 educators to uphold it, released the first in a planned series of videos in late 2022
- “Island Catholic Schools follow the BC Curriculum as determined by the Ministry of Education” (https://cisdv.bc.ca/). The BC K-12 curriculum “contains age appropriate content related to Indigenous peoples’ history, and includes the residential school era” (https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/education-training/k-12/administration/program-management/indigenous-education/actions-taken-on-reconciliation)
- Each CISDV school also “has the option to develop and approve locally developed courses appropriate to the school and grade” (https://cisdv.bc.ca/). Some examples of additional courses offered at CISDV schools include:
- The Grade 11 religion course at St. Andrew’s High School, which has a unit on Indigenous spirituality. The school has also contracted with Kairos to offer the Blanket Exercise to all Grade 11 students
- In 2017-2018, Queen of Angels school in Duncan offered a Cultural Class studying the Hul’q’umi’num’ language at the Grade 8 and 9 level. The students placed first in the 15th Annual Quw'tsun Hul'q'umi'num' Spuptitul Contest, where they were asked individually to recite specific words, answer questions, introduce themselves, and perform a group welcome song
- The same year, they also taught traditional dances to their Grade 3s, who then performed at a school & community potlatch held to recognize National Indigenous Peoples Day and to pass the 'Paddle of Leadership' from the Grade 9 class to the Grade 8 class
- CISDV Policy 604 states that “The Board of Directors is committed to providing programs and services in accordance with existing agreements between First Nation Bands and the Island Catholic Schools that reflect and respect the native culture and language as an integral part of the total education of First Nation children.” (https://cisdv.bc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/604_First_Nations_Education_Program_Feb2014.pdf)
- For the 2022-2023 school year, CISDV (along with the Catholic Independent Schools across BC) adopted the theme of “Seeking Truth, Healing and Reconciliation”. Principals had a retreat in August 2022 to discuss the theme and explore the resources available in “Listening to Indigenous Voices”; schools then worked on related activities over the course of the year.
- Students of CISVA schools have the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation off. Around that day, schools participate in related activities, such as reading and discussions, preparing bulletin boards and other displays, prayer services and/or Masses. In 2022, students were encouraged to volunteer at the South Island Powwow for the day if they were able to do so
- CISDV school libraries are committed to having good quality resources both for Indigenous students to see themselves reflected, and for non-Indigenous students to learn about Indigenous people
- Financial support for ministry and outreach to Indigenous people has been part of the Diocese of Victoria budget since before the TRC
- The Diocese has had an ongoing contract since 2011 with the Congregation of the Religious of the Virgin Mary (RVM) to hire Religious Sisters to work in direct relationship with Indigenous people in the Cowichan Valley and on the West Coast. The RVMs are an order founded in the Philippines, who have experience working with the Indigenous people of that country. Their work in our Diocese has included assisting with language and cultural programs for youth at St. Ann’s Parish in Duncan, and incorporating Indigenous language and other cultural elements into liturgies
- In 2021, the Diocese participated in the British Columbia Bishops’ Appeal in Support of Healing and Reconciliation through the 2021 Bishop’s Annual Appeal, “Spirit of Hope – Healing & Reconciliation”. The annual appeal usually supports a variety of diocesan programs and needs; in 2021, 100% of the net proceeds went to healing & reconciliation projects and initiatives, totaling $616,000
- Also in 2021, the Diocese set up an ongoing Indigenous Truth and Reconciliation Reserve to fund programs and requests. The value of this fund is currently over $730,000
- In 2022, the Diocese committed $1.25M to the CCCB Indigenous Reconciliation Fund, which was raised by the sale of a property that was being held for the construction of a Bishop’s residence. Over its first year, the Diocese of Victoria Indigenous Reconciliation Fund Committee reviewed 18 grant applications and approved 10, disbursing approximately $300,000 to local projects and initiatives related to healing and reconciliation. The Committee continues to accept applications.
- Bishop Gary Gordon’s Statement of Apology and Commitment after the May 2021 announcement from Kamloops: “The archival records related to the two Residential Schools (Christie and Kuper Island) that were managed by the Diocese of Victoria were forwarded to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (2008-2015) and our commitment to transparency remains firm. We are committed to assist First Nations communities in the work of searching for loved ones who went missing at the residential schools in our Diocese.”
- Bishop Gary Gordon’s Statement in Response to Penelakut Island Graves in July 2021: “We now listen with humility and respect, as the direction to go and the steps to be taken in response to these disclosures must lie in the hands of the communities and Indigenous people most affected. We commit to being accountable and contributing to these next-step solutions”
- The Diocese responds to requests for archival information as we receive them. Some recent requests include information related to land claims and class action lawsuits
- Our Archives have two original dictionaries of Indigenous languages that were created in the late 1800s / early 1900s by missionaries to the Pacific Northwest (Fr. Joseph Nicolaye and Fr. Augustus Brabant), as well as various Chinook Wawa dictionaries and catechisms from 1863 - 1909. These have been digitized, and we provide them free of charge to anyone who requests a copy. They have been used by Elders who are reclaiming their languages, and in teaching programs.