Washington, DC, August 11, 2021—We write to express our deep sorrow at the recent discoveries of unmarked graves of Indigenous children at the sites of several former boarding schools in Canada. We grieve deeply the loss of human life and culture that took place at such schools, both in Canada and the United States, and we acknowledge that the Society of Jesus participated in that history.
Fundamental to these schools were structures and practices which forced Indigenous children to be separated from their families and prohibited these children from speaking their language and practicing their culture. We regret our participation in the separation of families and the suppression of Native languages, cultures and sacred ways of life. While these practices and our participation in such schools ended decades ago, their traumatic effects have continued to reverberate through the generations and are still very present with many today.
At the core of our Christian faith lies the truth that every human being is equal in dignity, created in God’s image. Yet too often in our own past we, as the Society of Jesus, failed to honor the dignity of our Indigenous brothers and sisters. We did not recognize and respect the spiritual and sacred practices of the Indigenous peoples that we encountered. The Society of Jesus at that time responded to invitations to establish churches and schools among Native communities but did not fully appreciate the beauty of the traditions which were already here.
In 1983, then Superior General Peter Hans Kolvenbach, SJ, told a group of Native American leaders gathered in De Smet, Idaho, that the Society of Jesus was “sorry for the mistakes it has made in the past.” Today, the provincial leadership of the Society of Jesus in Canada and the United States joins our voices with Fr. Kolvenbach’s in expressing our sorrow for the mistakes the Society has made in the past. In addition, we commit to examining our own history and our archival records related to the history of Indigenous boarding schools in the United States and to assisting others who also wish to examine this history.
We welcome the recent establishment of the Indian Boarding School Initiative by the Department of the Interior in the United States, with which we will cooperate. We share in the desire to shine the light of truth on this part of our common history.
Reconciliation is central to the mission of the Society of Jesus, but to prepare for the healing work of reconciliation, knowledge of our history and mutual understanding are needed first. With our Native sisters and brothers, we grieve the losses of the past and the pain that continues to this day. We also look forward to a better future, built on a foundation of truth and mutual respect.