The bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Whitehorse says he's committed to working with local First Nations chiefs toward healing and reconciliation — and clarity about what happened at church-run residential schools.
Bishop Héctor Vila was responding to the recent discovery of remains on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in B.C. Preliminary findings uncovered the remains of 215 children.
"If you think of the life of these children, it just breaks your heart," Vila said.
"I think that this is a horrendous event that needs clarity, and the Church is committed to bring light to it."
The Kamloops school was operated by the Catholic Church in Canada, as was the infamous Lower Post residential school in northern B.C., where many Yukon children were sent.
On Monday, Vila joined a large procession of people marching through downtown Whitehorse to the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre. Many in the crowd that day wore orange and carried childrens' shoes to represent the victims of residential schools.
Vila was among those who gathered, holding a small pair of shoes and listening to local Indigenous leaders speak about trauma, grieving and healing. He says he was invited by local chiefs, including Kwanlin Dün Chief Doris Bill and Ta'an Kwach'an Council Chief Kristina Kane.
Vila said he was there in solidarity.
"I walk along with them because I know they are hurting. I know they need all the support that we can give. And that is why I went and joined them in this walk," he said.
Chief Bill acknowledged Vila's presence before the crowd on Monday, and called on those gathered to help build understanding. Vila says he was "very touched" by Bill's comments.
"She asked the people to come forward and to talk to me, to talk to others who have no residential school experience or knowledge, and to touch practically the wounds that people are carrying today," Vila said.
"You cannot say or tell someone that you love that person unless you really know what makes that person suffer. And this is fundamental in any kind of relations. I mean, how can I say I love you if I don't even know you, if I don't even know what makes you suffer?"
Asked about whether the Catholic Church should issue a formal apology for its residential schools, Vila said that's a matter for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops to address.
"But I would say that certainly there needs to be an event in which we can gather together, and work together with the chiefs here in Whitehorse, as to how to bring about this this particular apology and, you know, to openly work towards that, towards reconciliation," he said.
The Roman Catholic Church was responsible for operating up to 70 per cent of residential schools, according to the Indian Residential School Survivors Society (IRSSS). United, Anglican and Presbyterian churches were among those operating the remainder. In the years since, the Roman Catholic Church is the only one that hasn't made a formal apology.