UBC reviews award of honorary degree to former principal of B.C. residential school

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VANCOUVER — The University of British Columbia is reviewing its awarding of an honorary degree to a Roman Catholic bishop who was once a principal at a residential school where the remains of over 200 children have been discovered.

The university says it's aware of "community concerns" related to the degree conferred in 1986 to John O'Grady after specialists using ground-penetrating radar found grave shafts at the site of the former residential school in Kamloops.

It says in a statement that the discovery of the remains is deeply upsetting and being taken seriously by the university, which is located on the traditional and unceded territories of two First Nations.

A spokesman says a review by UBC's senate has been expedited and the process will include consultation with Indigenous communities and academic experts.

The university provided a statement issued by its then-president David Strangway at a convocation ceremony in May 1986, when O'Grady was introduced by his middle name, Fergus, and hailed for making education more accessible to local communities in the Interior and bringing "native and white communities closer together."

The university says it's among post-secondary institutions that bear part of the responsibility for the tragic history linked with residential schools because it trained many of the policy-makers and administrators who operated the facilities.

"We have made mistakes, and we cannot presume that we will not make more mistakes in the future," it says in a statement.

"Our commitment is to learn from our mistakes and, together, to continue to move forward in partnership with Indigenous peoples. Our commitment, as a university, and as a community of many members, must be strong, and must always result in meaningful action. This is our realization and it is our duty to act."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 31, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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