Catholic order that staffed Kamloops school agrees to share archives with Indigenous communities

The congregation of Catholic women that staffed the Kamloops residential school for decades has reached an agreement with the Royal BC Museum to make its records more accessible to Indigenous communities, including the Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc First Nation.

The Sisters of St. Ann and the museum signed a memorandum of understanding on Wednesday that they said aims to “provide enhanced access” to its private archives to the museum.

“We grieve with all of those who have lost children, classmates, ancestors in the school,” said Sister Marie Zarowny, president and board chair of the Sisters of St. Ann.

“Essentially we’re saying…we recommit ourselves today,” Zarowny added.

The congregation said Wednesday it had previously turned over its records from the four residential schools where its members taught, including Kamloops, to the Truth & Reconciliation Commission.

“We’ve realized they haven’t been accessible there,” Zarowny said.

“We will go through everything again and make sure we didn’t miss anything the first time.”

BC Archives staff will review the records, working alongside the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre at the University of British Columbia, who will act as a “neutral third party” to increase transparency.

Acting head of archives Genevieve Weber is reviewing other records from Kamloops, including from the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, who ran the residential school.

Weber said while she understood the congregation’s records weren’t extensive, they would “certainly add to the overall understanding of the school and add a significant layer of context.“

According to the congregation, those archival records include correspondence, photographs, financial records and accounts of daily life.

First Nations have called for the Sisters of St. Ann to release any and all records it retains after the discovery last month of the potential unmarked graves of up to 215 children, some as young as three, on the grounds of the former residential school.

While Zarowny said the records included mention of child illness and death, she indicated she believed those names were included in the 51 already recorded on the memorial register of the National Centre for Truth & Reconciliation.

Likewise, while Weber said she’d come across records mentioning student deaths in the materials from the Oblates, every mention has been of a child already named on that list.

The Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc have previously said they believe the remains of the 215 children discovered using ground-penetrating radar are in addition to the 51 children on the register.

CTV News has reached out to the Nation for comment on the agreement.

The MOU is scheduled to take effect July 1.

The Sisters of St. Ann taught at the Kamloops Indian Residential School from 1890 to 1891, and 1893 to 1970 and also provided child care and nursing services.