Vancouver Catholic school founded by nuns who ran Kamloops residential school promises change

Former students of Little Flower Academy are demanding that the Catholic school revise its curriculum to include thorough lessons around residential schools and the trauma inflicted on Indigenous peoples.

The all-girls school on Vancouver’s West Side was established in 1927 by the Sisters of St. Ann, an order of Roman Catholic nuns. It’s the same order of nuns that staffed the Kamloops Indian Residential School where the bodies of 215 Indigenous children were found in unmarked graves last month.

Dozens of alumnae gathered in front of LFA Friday morning to pay tribute to the children in Kamloops.

“I don’t think any of us here who are not Indigenous can even begin to comprehend the sorrow and the pain that the people are going through,” said Abigail Balisky, co-organizer of the memorial.

Former students lit candles and placed flowers and teddy bears on the front steps, as school administrators looked on. Several alumnae addressed the crowd, expressing grief and anger.

“I hope you open your ears and truly listen,” one student said to school staff.

The alumnae said during their time at LFA, they were not taught about the Catholic Church’s involvement in residential schools and the suffering it caused Indigenous children and families.

“There is deep distress in our community about our connection to this tragedy,” said Diane Little, the school’s principal.

Little said the school stands in solidarity with its alumnae and will answer the call to revise the curriculum.

“We need to have the courage to talk about things that make us uncomfortable, and for which we feel shame.”

School administrators have engaged with several Indigenous communities and a cultural anthropologist to determine the best path forward.

“We are grateful for any advice, any conversation that they are willing to have with us,” Little said.

The school plans to acknowledge the role played by the Sisters of St. Ann when teaching about residential schools, and has begun developing a cross-curricular plan for an authentic approach to teaching about historical and contemporary injustice and the impacts of colonization. The curriculum will also include first-hand accounts from residential school survivors.

Alumnae are also calling for a formal apology from the Sisters of St. Ann. While LFA was founded by that order of nuns, it’s been operating independently since the early 1990s. As a result, school administrators said they’re not in a position to say sorry.

“The apology, in order to be authentic and sincere, would have to come from the people that ran the residential schools. I cannot speak on behalf of the Sisters or the Catholic Church,” Little explained.

The Sisters of St. Ann did issue an apology in 2014, but because it did not make reference to Indigenous children dying in the order’s care, alumnae say the apology didn’t go far enough.

If you are a former residential school student in distress, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419

Additional mental-health support and resources for Indigenous people are available here