Independent
journalism that swims
against the current.
News
Indigenous
Rights + Justice
Education

A Colonial Reckoning at Little Flower Academy

A Vancouver Catholic girls school venerated their founders but downplayed their residential school history. Alumnae want answers. Second in a Tyee special investigation.

Katie Hyslop 12 Jul 2022TheTyee.ca

Katie Hyslop is a reporter for The Tyee. Reach them by email.

[Editor’s note: This piece is the second in a two-part Tyee special investigation. If you haven’t yet, we suggest first reading part one, Francesca Fionda’s deeply researched exploration of the record of the Sisters of St. Ann. While the sisters acknowledge their role at four residential schools, Fionda’s analysis for The Tyee looked at institutions that had a similar goal of Indigenous cultural erasure going back to the 1860s and found that the Sisters of St. Ann worked at 22 Indigenous mission, residential, boarding, industrial, convent and day schools in B.C., Quebec and Alaska.]

The skies were grey on the morning of Friday, June 4, 2021. But the mood was even more sombre at a memorial to honour the children who lost their lives at residential schools, held outside Little Flower Academy, known for its rigorous academics, on Vancouver’s west side.

The school has been rated one of the top-performing secondary schools in the province by the Fraser Institute, a think tank that uses standardized test scores to rank schools in Canada. A mainstay of Vancouver’s westside for 95 years, the all-girls private Catholic school costs $8,500 annually in tuition and boasts Olympic athletes, a LGBTQ2S+ advocate, actors and groundbreaking scientists among their distinguished alumnae.

The vision of the school, inscribed on the Little Flower Academy website, notes they are “inspired by the Sisters of St. Ann,” the order of sisters who founded and ran the school for eight decades, from 1927 to 1994, to “educate young women within the Catholic faith to reach their fullest potential and to lead extraordinary lives.”

Until 2021, a timeline of the sisters’ history in the province, including portraits of the sisters, graced the academy’s halls, a consistent reminder to students of the dedication to academic excellence and religious piety they were expected to strive for.

But on this day about 70 former Little Flower students, parents and current school administrators attended the memorial, held just a week after the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation went public with their discovery of the unmarked and abandoned graves of over 200 children, some as young as three-years-old, at the former school site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School in Kamloops, British Columbia.

The private, Catholic, girls-only Little Flower Academy is located hundreds of kilometres away from the grounds of the former residential school, one of the over 100 that operated in Canada from 1870 to 1996.

Despite the distance, the two institutions are closely related. The Sisters of St. Ann, who founded Little Flower Academy in 1927 and played a significant role in the school until 2016, also taught at the Kamloops Indian Residential School from 1890 to 1970 — a fact many Little Flower alumnae did not learn until the unmarked gravesites made international news in June 2021.

Natanis LaBoucane, who is Métis, opened the Little Flower Academy memorial that morning with Alysha Lynee Mattice, of Iroquois and Métis descent, by smudging with sage. LaBoucane spoke to the shroud of secrecy that for many people had only now been lifted from Little Flower Academy and the former residential school.

“May we find all the unidentified unmarked graves. And may we open the truth, wide open so that we can change,” said LaBoucane.

While the memorial itself was peaceful, the mood among the students who attended, as well as those who have gathered online through an alumnae Facebook group in the immediate aftermath of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation’s revelation, was a rising anger.

To the right of the photo, five people walk towards a set of stone steps to pay their regards. In the centre of the photo, the stone steps are lined with candles, flowers, stuffed animals, and other momentos. To the left of the photo, there is a video camera, and a person standing to the side.
About 70 former students, staff and parents dressed in black and orange gathered at the Little Flower Academy’s entrance. Attendees lined the school’s steps with candles, flowers, stuffed animals and other mementos. Photo by Francesca Fionda.

Anger over the cruel injustices done to children who lost their lives and suffered abuses at the Kamloops Indian Residential School — and anger at Little Flower Academy for selling them a story they say obfuscated the role the sisters played in a national genocide.

The Tyee interviewed eight former Little Flower students and heard from a ninth; most spoke of mandatory field trips to a former school run by the sisters that may have been a residential school, as well as visits to the remaining sisters in their Victoria nursing home, where students were encouraged to ask the former residential school teachers for advice on living a pious woman’s life. The co-author of this series, Francesca Fionda, is also a Little Flower alumna who has been involved in calls for accountability at the school.

As an independent school, Little Flower Academy falls under the Group 1 designation, meaning it receives 50 per cent of the per-student funding public schools do, has provincially certified teachers and follows the B.C. curriculum.

While the curriculum mandates lessons on residential schools, teachers have flexibility over how they construct their lessons on the histories and impacts of residential schools.

Diane Little, principal of Little Flower Academy, declined an interview going into detail about how students were taught about residential schools prior to June 2021 and how that has since changed. As a result, we’ve used alumnae accounts to develop a portrait. Former students spoke of at least three former teachers whose residential school lessons dismissed the harms of the colonial institutions as either blown out of proportion or not applicable to the schools the Sisters of St. Ann ran.

“To not educate your students, to bring them to a former residential school, it's something that I don't think any of us will ever understand,” said Renee Laberge at the June 2021 memorial she organized with fellow class of 2019 alumna Abigail Balisky.

“I don't think some of us will ever forgive.”

‘The pioneer congregation of Catholic educators’

Little Flower Academy was one of over two dozen schools and hospitals opened and operated by the Sisters of St. Ann, a religious order founded in Quebec that travelled west to British Columbia as Catholic missionaries in 1858. The sisters also taught in another 18 schools they did not open.

While accounts of their early work mention their plan of specifically teaching and converting First Nations children across B.C., they also taught settler children. Vancouver’s Little Flower Academy opened to serve those students in 1927.

A black and white archival photo of a relatively large building covered in cedar shakes. The front of the building has two covered porches. There is a second entrance at the side of the building.
This former convent in Vancouver, Shaughnessy served as a residence for the Sisters of St. Ann and eventually classrooms for Little Flower Academy. Photo via BC Archives [A-07697].

The academy began as two schools, an elementary and a secondary, before it was pared down to just a secondary school in the mid 1980s. The sisters eventually transferred the secondary school to the stewardship of the charitable Jane Rowan Society, established by the sisters as part of their slow decoupling from the school, in 1994.

The last of the sisters didn’t retire from teaching at the academy until 2009 and the order did not officially sever ties with the school until 2016.

Scholarships and student awards still bear the sisters’ names, and their memories are invoked with reverence by the teachers and school administration.

Until it was removed sometime in the 2021-22 school year, a school history display shared that the sisters “extended their ministry,” after 1864, to schools in Mission and Kamloops, with a photo of “St. Mary’s, Mission City, 1867.” The display, removed sometime after the gravesites were rediscovered, neglected to mention that these schools were residential schools.

The Tyee has found at least six former Sisters of St. Ann taught at both Little Flower Academy and residential schools in the province. They include Sister Josephine “Jo” Carney; Sister Helen Gertrude Worth; Sister Mary Sharon Doore; Sister Lucy Rose Dumont; Sister Lorraine Beatrice Lamarre and Sister Mary Carmina.

Despite the last sister retiring from Little Flower Academy in 2009, reverence for the sisters' work lived on in the mythology the school built around them as women dedicated to education and acts of service, who were ahead of their time.

When Alli Anderson attended Little Flower Academy in the late 1980s, administrators and teachers emphasized how privileged the students were to be in a school run by the Sisters of St. Ann.

“‘The dedication it took, the caring, the love that it took for these women and what they do,’” Anderson recalled being told.

“And: ‘This is one of the top schools in Vancouver, you're very lucky to be here as a student to learn under their tutelage.’”

Three decades later, that message hadn’t changed, according to Little Flower alumnae Elise Lafleur, who graduated from the school in 2018.

“The school always treated them as feminist pioneers,” recalled Lafleur.

“They didn't say it in these words, but essentially ‘bringing education to the uneducated and unenlightened coast people.’ Of course, ignoring the fact that the Indigenous peoples of the coast had societies where women were teachers and spiritual leaders, and holders of family and memory.”

A 2016 graduate who asked not to be named also remembered being sold a vision of the Sisters of St. Ann as having feminist values in an era when girls’ education was not valued.

“They're revered as pioneers of education and… like a certain holiness around them, like a gratitude and reverence for what they did for us… to make the school,” they said.

“And also a lot of emphasis on how they chose to make a girls-only school, to give women the chance to have an education.”

In Grade 10 or 11, Little Flower students take a mandatory field trip to Vancouver Island, which includes visiting with the remaining Sisters of St. Ann at their retirement home in Victoria. Former student Katarina Szulc recalls being encouraged to ask the sisters about “how to be a good, virtuous woman.”

“We were told all the time, ‘You have to show the values and live with the values of the Sisters of St. Ann,’” she said.

Until early June 2021, the Little Flower Academy website described the Sisters of St. Ann as “visionaries” and “the pioneer congregation of Catholic educators in British Columbia.”

“All who are associated with the school are privileged to share in the mission and the rich tradition of the Sisters of St. Ann,” the website read.

The Tyee contacted Little Flower principal Diane Little for an interview on May 31, 2021, just days after 215 gravesites were rediscovered on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. We specifically outlined our interest in discussing both how the school was addressing the sisters’ legacy at residential schools, and their description of the Sisters of St. Ann on their website.

Little declined an interview, but the website was changed later that same day, removing the statement about the “privilege” of knowing the sisters through Little Flower Academy.

The website also included a new statement about the discovery of the 215 children’s remains at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School under the heading “Truth & Reconciliation.” The online statement does not mention the connection between the Sisters of St. Ann and the school, however, a letter posted to the school website from administration to LFA alumnae does mention it.

The Tyee followed up with Little by email three more times for an interview between June and November 2021, but she declined. We also emailed the board of the Jane Rowan Society in May and June 2022 for an interview on how the school has changed the way it teaches about residential schools and the role the sisters played, but did not receive a response.

An unspoken history

The history of the Sisters of St. Ann’s relationship with residential schools in British Columbia was not unknown.

But it wasn’t widely talked about either, especially not at Little Flower Academy.

One alumna, Maureen Ferguson, who attended the school in the mid to late 1970s, says she was not taught about the sisters' involvement in residential schools.

But Ferguson recalls that the cruelty of some sisters leaked out.

“I went in Grade 7 when there was a sister, Mary Hortensius, who was aged at that time. And she was still giving people the strap, which was not done,” Ferguson recalls, adding that Hortensius’s strap was frayed at the ends from what she assumed was “years of use.” Corporal punishment was banned in British Columbia schools in 1973. Hortensius died in 1999.

“I told my mom about that, and she called the principal of the elementary school, Sister Helen Worth. And she said, ‘You know, that's not legal.’ And that was the end of the strapping.”

Ferguson, who says she “thoroughly enjoyed” her time at Little Flower, didn’t learn the true extent of the Sisters of St. Ann's involvement in residential schools until this past June, when fellow alumnae began sharing what they had learned in a Facebook group for former students.

“I almost threw up when I read that,” says Ferguson, who left the Catholic church in the 1990s.

Alli Anderson, who attended the school in the late ’80s, didn’t learn about the sisters’ involvement in residential schools during her time at Little Flower, either. When she attended Little Flower more than 30 years ago, lessons on residential schools were not mandated in the curriculum.

Anderson, who is of Inupiat and Scottish descent and was, to her knowledge, the only Indigenous student at the school at the time, had a mixed experience with the sisters.

“They were nice, older ladies. One was particularly sweet. The other ones were... well, I would say cold and unapproachable to certain students, especially someone like me that didn't quite fit in,” Anderson said.

Anderson learned of the sisters’ involvement at the Kamloops school when the burial sites were rediscovered last June.

“That really shook me. I had no idea,” she said. “It was never ever talked about. It was not common knowledge to any student.”

But when Anderson attended Little Flower, she did know that some of the sisters had taught at such schools. In particular, she knew that Sister Josephine Carney and teacher Maureen Lyons, who is not a member of the order, had been involved in the residential school system. She also knew that her mother, Maggie Gordon, had attended residential school in Yellowknife, though she barely spoke about it. Anderson thought bringing it up might be a way of relating to her teachers, who were both sisters and laypeople.

“I did approach Sister Josephine Carney and Ms. Lyons and said, ‘Oh, my mother went to residential school.’ And there was not much of a positive response from either teacher,” Anderson recalls.

“They did not want to talk about it,” Anderson says. “And so I never approached them again.”

It was only when Anderson’s mother turned 80 last year that she began to open up about her experience at Akaitcho Hall, a government-run residential school that opened in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, in 1958. Including a school-hired dentist’s decision to remove all her teeth.

“She was never given any moulds of her mouth to fit,” says Anderson, a former nurse, adding her mother could have easily contracted an infection and died from the procedure.

“As an Indigenous person, my mother was lesser-than and didn't deserve dignity, didn't deserve pain medication, didn't deserve antibiotics,” says Anderson.

Like many LFA alumnae, Anderson didn’t learn about the Sisters of St. Ann’s past with residential schools until the rediscovery of the graves at the former Kamloops school site last year.

"I, with many of the alumnae from Little Flower Academy, were just aghast that they were involved and that we went to school with Sisters of St. Ann, the sisters who were and are old enough to have been involved in the residential school system.”

Teachers denied reality of residential schools

Much of the news coverage of the sisterhood in recent years has focused on their dwindling ranks as they retired and passed away, and the generosity of their philanthropic donations as the order unloads its assets in light of the fact that, after 170 years, the order of Sisters of St. Ann is coming to a close. As reported in The Tyee yesterday, Canada Revenue Agency filings show that the sisters donated almost $43 million to various charities between 2007 and 2020, but did not make any contributions to fundraising efforts for the 2007 Indian Residential School Survivor Agreement.

Even before the Kamloops announcement reignited conversations about colonialism, truth and reconciliation last year, though, some aspects of the sisters’ history had begun to surface.

A source told The Tyee that in 2017, an LFA student submitted an article to the student newspaper, the Globe and Halo, about the Sisters of St. Ann’s role in the residential schools system. Most of the research for the article was sourced from a University of British Columbia student podcast, part of the Terry Project. This student declined to be interviewed about the article.

The Terry Project’s 2014 episode on the sisters details the role they played as administrators at St. Mary’s residential school in Mission. On the episode, survivor and former Grand Chief of the Stó:lō Nation Ken Galloway, who was forced to attend the school, describes physical and sexual abuse at the hands of sisters and priests who worked there.

After school administration read the LFA student’s article, it was not permitted to be published. Two people familiar with the process told us it’s not uncommon for submitted articles to not get published, but during the editing process the story and its content would have been vetted by LFA teachers before administrators saw it.

Current LFA principal Diane Little declined to comment on the incident. She also declined to comment on alumnae accusations that some teachers had also taught at residential schools, and/or denied the abuse of Indigenous children at residential schools.

“LFA is not prepared to litigate anonymous allegations in the media or participate in a speculative finger pointing of potential employees,” Little, who was already the principal of the school at the time the article was submitted, wrote in an email to The Tyee.

The Sisters of St. Ann acknowledges their involvement in four former residential schools. But research by The Tyee has linked them to another 18 day, boarding and mission schools as teachers, administrators and even founders.

Not every Little Flower teacher who previously worked in residential schools were members of the order. Maureen Lyons taught at Little Flower Academy until she retired in 2019. Prior to that she also taught at residential schools in the 1970s, and would later be responsible for teaching the social studies classes at Little Flower, covering the residential school system, as recently as 2019.

“[Lyons] started the unit by sitting us down and being like, ‘Listen, this is part of the curriculum, so I technically have to teach it to you. But just so you know, I taught at a residential school and that no abuse occurred that I'm aware of,’” said a 2018 grad who asked not to be named.

“I remember arguing with her in 11th grade about it, about how you shouldn't take children from their parents. And whether or not you teach them how to read, I don't care. You're starving them and a bunch of them got raped. And she told me, ‘Listen, I don't know about the rest of them, but there was no abuse at the one I taught, or at least none that I knew of.’”

Lyons, the student recalled, said any former residential school students who claimed abuse at the school she taught at were lying in order to receive compensation from the federal government.

“Whenever we would bring the issue up, she would say, ‘Oh, it was actually quite a lovely place for those children,’” another student, who asked not to be named, said of Lyons.

Two other students who spoke to The Tyee also mentioned Lyons specifically when discussing denial of residential school abuses at Little Flower.

Lyons did not respond to emails, voice mails or registered letters sent by The Tyee requesting an interview. An attempt to deliver questions to Lyons in person in April 2022 was unsuccessful; someone at her home responding via intercom acknowledged they’d received our previous communications before hanging up.

By 2015, B.C.’s newly redesigned curriculum required teaching students about residential schools as early as elementary school, whereas previously the lessons didn’t start until Grade 11.

When asked if Little Flower would be changing the way it taught residential school history in the wake of the Kamloops rediscovery, principal Little declined to comment.

But we do know that Catholic schools in B.C. follow the provincial curriculum for most courses, except religion classes which fall outside the provincial curriculum.

Unlike many other Catholic schools in the city that fall under the Catholic Independent Schools Vancouver Archdiocese school board, Little Flower Academy is under the sole direction of the Jane Rowan Society.

The Tyee spoke with Michel Gloanec, director of Evangelization and Catechesis at the CISVA, to get a sense of how Catholic schools more broadly should be teaching about residential schools, particularly in religion classes where they have more freedom to determine the curriculum.

The "First People’s Principles of Learning,” created in collaboration between the province and the First Nations Education Steering Committee to guide the creation of curriculum surrounding the First Peoples English course in 2006-07, is integrated into every grade at the CISVA schools, Gloanec told The Tyee.

The current Truth and Reconciliation strategic priority of CISVA is to “redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of truth and reconciliation,” he said.

Gloanec said this priority includes listening, building relationships and empowering educators to “teach students about residential schools and the role of the church.” In November 2021, when he spoke to The Tyee, Gloanec said that the CISVA was working on the specifics of what kinds of resources would be available to help empower educators to do that.

“We still have lots of work to do,” he said.

Schools with direct links to residential schools, like Little Flower Academy, “absolutely” have an obligation to include that history in their classes, Gloanec says. However, this is not outlined specifically in the religion curriculum.

If teachers in religion class at a CISVA school dismiss or downplay the role of the church in residential schools, he said students should first talk to the teacher directly, then the principal. If the student is still not satisfied, he suggested the school pastor next, and then the CISVA.

What makes a residential school?

When Little Flower’s students take their mandatory field trip to the Island to visit the remaining Sisters of St. Ann, they also visit Providence Farm, a therapeutic farm program near Duncan, B.C., for people with head injuries, mental illnesses, developmental issues and “age-related injuries.”

The site was transferred to the stewardship of the Vancouver Island Providence Community Association by the Sisters of St. Ann in 1979.

The Sisters purchased the land in 1864, opening and operating a school on the property. Though the sisters have not been involved with the site’s operations since 1979, they did not officially cut ties with the property until 2008.

A gravel road leads towards a large white building with a red roof. There is an old stable to the left; to the right, there is grass and a large evergreen tree.
The road towards the current Providence Farm building. The Sisters of St. Ann first built on this spot when they settled here in the 1860s. Photo by Francesca Fionda.

In a since-removed page from the sisters’ website, they describe the school as “a boarding school for young Native girls” that was operated from 1864 to 1876 before being “enlarged to make room for orphaned girls from [St. Ann’s] Academy in Victoria.”

The school later became a boys-only school, then a larger school known as Providence House. Providence House operated in the building that still stands today, which was built in 1921. In 1950 it began accepting “extern” girls who lived nearby, while still operating as a boarding school for boys. In 1956 it became a day school for all students including white and Indigenous children. This was its mission until it closed in 1964.

Tracy Parow, executive director of the Vancouver Island Providence Community Association, says school photos of students still at the former school site and dating as far back as 1904 do not seem to include Indigenous children. “The photographs appear to be mostly Caucasian children,” she says.

Parow maintains the school was not a residential school because it is not included in the federal government’s official count of the schools.

In an interview with The Tyee, Wahéhshon Shiann Whitebean, Kanien’kehá:ka from Kahnawà:ke of the Wolf Clan, who has researched Indian day schools, told The Tyee there are "subtle, little differences" in the terms we use to describe institutions including but not limited to residential schools, industrial schools and boarding schools. Indigenous children were sent against their will to all three forms of schools, Whitebean said. They mostly only differentiate in terms of when they operated and who operated them.

“The premise of the schools is the same. Most of them, they're created to assimilate and acculturate children, Christianize them,” Whitebean said. She said a more comprehensive understanding of what constitutes a residential school uses this criteria.

While Providence House is not included on the federal government’s official list, the fact that it operated for over a decade as a Catholic boarding school specifically for orphaned Indigenous girls meant it shared many similarities to “official” residential schools.

Many Little Flower alumnae told The Tyee they believe Providence House should be considered a residential school.

When alumna Katarina Szulc travelled to Providence Farm with her classmates in 2018, students speculated that the official story about the school was concealing the truth of its history.

“All of us start talking about it, everyone in our long lunch table. And the campus minister, Ms. Carlson, comes over and says, ‘If I hear one more thing about a residential school, you guys aren't having dinner tonight.’ And I was like, ‘I'd like to see you try,’” she said.

“She said, ‘Katarina, don't test me.’ And so then when she walked away, we're like, 'Well, there it is. This is a residential school.'”

Moretto, who took the trip most recently out of all the former Little Flower students we spoke to, said the vision of the site students hear about on the trip is overwhelmingly positive, neglecting to mention any dark chapters in the site’s past.

“We were told that Providence Farm was a great place, that the Sisters of St. Ann founded it to care for and help poor orphaned girls from Indigenous cultures. We were never told the horrors. We were never told anything negative,” she said.

“We were told that it was like a safe haven for everyone. And that the Sisters of St. Ann were on their high pedestal for founding it.”

In an email to The Tyee, Peter Gibson, a volunteer archivist at the Cowichan Valley Museum & Archives, was adamant that Providence Farm was not the site of a former residential school.

“It was NOT an ‘Indian Residential School,’ but offered education to any students,” Gibson wrote.

There was a “day school” located nearby, which is similar to a residential school in that it was operated by a religious order, Indigenous students’ attendance was mandatory and children were abused, but students lived at home with their families. Gibson pointed out that St. Catherine’s Indian Day School, built by the government on Cowichan reserve land and operated from 1923 to 1973, was located just a few kilometres from what is now Providence Farm. The Sisters of St. Ann would go on to teach there, too.

However, in 2021 a statement on the main page of the Providence Farm website raised questions about the school in light of the recent uncovering of unmarked graves at other former residential school sites: “Vancouver Island Providence Community Association will co-operate with any request from the Hul’qumi’num Treaty Group for actions to confirm the presence or absence of burial sites at Providence Farm.”

Tracy Parow, who wrote the statement, does not believe there are children’s remains on the farm site. The Hul’qumi’num Treaty Group had not reached out to the association about possible burial grounds on the Providence Farm site before the statement was posted, she said, nor had the association reached out to the Treaty Group, though the farm does have an existing relationship with Cowichan Tribes, which is part of the Treaty Group. (The Tyee reached out to Cowichan Tribes by email and phone but was not able to secure an interview.)

“I wrote the statement,” Parow said, “because I felt it was in the best interests of this organization to make that statement for those persons who may be researching the organization.”

Without official federal government recognition, it is easy to conclude Providence House was not a residential school. But with the same elements of a white, Christian order directing the education of orphaned Indigenous children in a school where they also lived, the difference between being a residential school and being a boarding school for Indigenous children may just be semantics.

Renewed calls for accountability

When the Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc announced they had rediscovered the buried remains of 215 children on May 27, 2021, LFA alumna and co-author of this series, Francesca Fionda, wrote a letter to the school’s current administration and faculty, as well as the Jane Rowan Society. The letter was accompanied by the signatures of nearly 1,200 LFA alumnae going back as far as 1956, as well as their parents, families and former LFA faculty.

In the first paragraph Fionda, who is not Indigenous, named the sisters' role in teaching at the Kamloops Indian Residential School, which was not discussed when she attended Little Flower from 2000 to 2005. She also went into detail about the traumatic impact residential schools have had on generations of Indigenous people and their families, as highlighted by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“We, the undersigned members of the LFA community, are heartbroken, ashamed and angered,” the letter reads.

The letter emphasized that what Little Flower Academy did next to address these wrongs must be done in consultation and solidarity with the Indigenous people whose lands their school sits on, the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm, Skwxwú7mesh and səl̓ilwətaɁɬ First Nations, and those harmed by the Sisters of St. Ann.

School administration published a response to the letter on their website in early June 2021. In it they committed to engaging with Indigenous communities, teaching the history of the Sisters of St. Ann’s role in residential schools and developing a “comprehensive” cross-curricular plan for teaching students about injustices past and present, colonization and incorporating the First Peoples Principles of Learning.

“The school also plans to take specific steps towards a pathway that authentically has a role in reconciliation with our Indigenous sisters and brothers. The tangible changes will happen in the coming months. Foremost, we are committed to putting the voice of survivors in our teaching about residential schools,” the response reads.

Fionda’s letter also pushed LFA to fulfil the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action on education, specifically teaching about the residential school system, the role played by orders like the Sisters of St. Ann, and removing any wording on the school’s website that glorifies colonization or papers over the role the sisters played in genocide.

Former LFA students who spoke to The Tyee had suggestions of their own, including having the Sisters of St. Ann, whose archives are held by the Royal BC Museum but are not fully accessible to the public, provide access to all Indigenous people who request their files on the places where the Sisters of St. Ann taught.

This echoes a similar call the First Nations Leadership Council made over the summer of 2021 for access to these archives. However, during an interview with The Tyee in August 2021, Sister Marie Zarowny, president and board chair for the Sisters of St. Ann, denied the archives related to residential schools were ever inaccessible as they are available to anyone who can physically access the Royal BC Museum, where the archives are currently stored.

Nevertheless in June 2021 the sisters signed a memorandum of understanding with the museum and the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre at UBC. The memorandum states that the centre will act as a neutral third party to review the archives for content relevant to residential schools.

“The residential school archives is a very small percentage of our entire archives,” Zarowny said, adding the work is expected to take until 2025.

Little Flower Academy must come clean about the history residential schools, many alumnae told The Tyee, and the key role the Sisters of St. Ann in particular, and the Catholic Church more broadly, played in the genocide of Indigenous people in Canada.

One year after the memorial, a timeline of the sisters’ history in the province, including portraits of the sisters, which used to grace the halls of Little Flower Academy, has been removed.

A land acknowledgement, noting the school is located on xʷməθkʷəy̓əm, Skwxwú7mesh and səl̓ilwətaɁɬ First Nations’ land, has been added to the school’s website. And the site’s page on the Sisters of St. Ann has been heavily edited, removing the descriptions of the sisters as “visionaries” and “pioneers,” and adding sections about truth and reconciliation — copied from the sisters’ own website — and the school’s commitment to teaching about the history of the residential schools.

“It is our responsibility to teach the truth about the residential school system; to deepen our collective understanding of the intergenerational harm that the residential school system caused; to acknowledge the role of the Catholic Church within these schools; to contribute to the process of reconciliation and healing; and, to take action against the societal injustices that continue within our communities today,” the website reads.

As recently as June 2022 for the Jane Rowan Society and November 2021 for principal Little, The Tyee sought interviews to get a picture of how this commitment is playing out in the classrooms of Little Flower Academy today. These attempts were unsuccessful.

Former student Alli Anderson hopes students are being taught what the Sisters of St. Ann really contributed to the lives of Indigenous children in this province.

“They need to teach it, as uncomfortable as it may make them feel, it has to be front and centre,” Anderson says. “I would like to see it taught straight up, real truth, Grade 8 to 12. That this is where we were, this is what we did. We are sorry for what we've done.”

“If you claim to be a Christian, you will have no qualms to do that.”

With files from Francesca Fionda.  [Tyee]

  • Share:

Facts matter. Get The Tyee's in-depth journalism delivered to your inbox for free

Tyee Commenting Guidelines

Comments that violate guidelines risk being deleted, and violations may result in a temporary or permanent user ban. Maintain the spirit of good conversation to stay in the discussion.
*Please note The Tyee is not a forum for spreading misinformation about COVID-19, denying its existence or minimizing its risk to public health.

Do:

  • Be thoughtful about how your words may affect the communities you are addressing. Language matters
  • Challenge arguments, not commenters
  • Flag trolls and guideline violations
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity, learn from differences of opinion
  • Verify facts, debunk rumours, point out logical fallacies
  • Add context and background
  • Note typos and reporting blind spots
  • Stay on topic

Do not:

  • Use sexist, classist, racist, homophobic or transphobic language
  • Ridicule, misgender, bully, threaten, name call, troll or wish harm on others
  • Personally attack authors or contributors
  • Spread misinformation or perpetuate conspiracies
  • Libel, defame or publish falsehoods
  • Attempt to guess other commenters’ real-life identities
  • Post links without providing context

LATEST STORIES

The Barometer

Do You Think Canada Should Cut Ties with the Monarchy?

Take this week's poll