Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) supported an Indigenous boarding home that is under investigation by the Saskatchewan RCMP.
The Mounties say a complaint was made in 2020 about a death that potentially occurred at the Timber Bay Children’s Home at Montreal Lake, Sask., in 1974.
At the time, the home was operated by the Brethren in Christ Church, (now called the Be in Christ Church), with support from MCC, that supplied volunteers for the home, which housed Métis, First Nations and non-Indigenous children, from across Canada, from 1973 to 1990.
The home served as a school until 1969, when a school opened in Timber Bay and students went to that school. Some also went to a reserve school at nearby Montreal Lake First Nation.
No charges have been laid.
In a statement, Rick Cober Bauman, MCC Canada’s executive director, said, "We lament the pain experienced by residential school survivors and intergenerational survivors. We are committed to walking alongside Indigenous peoples seeking justice and will co-operate fully with any investigations."
Given the legal status of the case, Cober Bauman said MCC was unable to provide further comment.
Although the Roman Catholic, United and Anglican churches operated most of the residential schools in Canada, Mennonites were involved in a few of them.
According to Mennonite Church Canada, Mennonites became involved with residential schools during the Second World War, when Mennonite conscientious objectors were placed as teachers in day and residential schools in Manitoba.
From 1948 to 1968, Mennonites operated day schools at Pauingassi and Bloodvein in Manitoba, and in Alberta. For 24 years, from 1962-1989, the Northern Light Gospel Mission, a Mennonite organization based in the United States, operated a residential school in northwestern Ontario at Poplar Hill. A related organization, Northern Youth Programs, also ran two residential high schools at Stirland Lake and Cristal Lake, also in northwestern Ontario, in the 1970s and ’80s.
In 1997, both organizations apologized to Indigenous people for their role in residential schools. In subsequent years, the mission was re-organized, first as Impact North Ministries, then as Living Hope Native Ministries. The new organization issued another apology to students at Poplar Hill in 2013.
In 2014, MCC expressed regret for "our part in the assimilation practice that took away language use and cultural practice, separated child from parent, parent from child, and Indigenous peoples from their culture."
"We are aware that we have a long path to walk," MCC added. "We hope to build relationships with First Nations communities so that we can continue this learning journey and walk this path together."
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling toll-free the 24-hour national crisis line at 1-866-925-4419.
John Longhurst is a faith reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press. Originally posted on winnipegfreepress.com on July 31. Reprinted by permission of the author.