On Wednesday, October 20, 2021 at the wikuom located on the Mount Saint Vincent University campus, Dr. Ramona Lumpkin, CM, Interim university President and Vice-Chancellor, gathered with a group of Indigenous community representatives, including residential school survivors, First Nation community leaders, Elders, MSVU L’nu Advisory Circle members, and university representatives for a ceremony of apology and commitment.
The ceremony was moderated by Catherine Martin, member of the L’nu Advisory Circle at MSVU and presently Director of Indigenous Community Engagement at Dalhousie University, and included a prayer by Sister Dorothy Moore of the Membertou First Nation, drumming and singing by Raymond Sewell from Pabineau First Nation, and reflections from Grand Chief of the Mi’kmaq Grand Council Norman Sylliboy of the Eskasoni First Nation.
At the ceremony, Dr. Lumpkin apologized on behalf of the university to survivors, their families and communities, as well as all Indigenous Peoples, for MSVU’s role in the tragedy of residential schools in Canada, noting that the Sisters of Charity Halifax, the founders and previous owners of Mount Saint Vincent University, had members who staffed the Shubenacadie Residential School in Nova Scotia, which was open from 1930 to 1967, and the Cranbrook Residential School in British Columbia, which was open from 1890 to 1970.
Referring to the traumas experienced by residential school survivors, their family members and communities, Dr. Lumpkin said, “Theirs is an immeasurable suffering that has left a legacy for subsequent generations. MSVU is deeply sorry for our role in the tragedy of residential schools.”
Dr. Lumpkin also noted that MSVU’s responsibility and apology extend to actions and inactions shared by many Canadian universities including a harmful delay in addressing the exclusion of Indigenous youth from the benefits of a university education, and inadequate education about the damage done to children by the residential schools.
MSVU’s apology was accompanied by a list of commitments the university is making to Indigenous Peoples. The commitments build upon work already being undertaken and are based on a commitment to listening, learning, and enduring action.
“While these commitments represent progress towards a meaningful path forward, we will continue to consult, listen to and learn from members of our Indigenous community. This is therefore an ongoing process which will evolve over time,” said Dr. Lumpkin. “We will walk with Indigenous community members on a healing journey, recognizing that the truth needs to be heard and acknowledged in order to advance long-term sustainable change.”
“This is a sacred time and the apology from MSVU is a welcomed gesture towards healing through reconciliation,” said Catherine Martin. “Dr. Lumpkin led us in several discussions and has committed to this approach that we all support. It, of course, is not only a gesture but also a promise to continue on this journey together towards healing. As an alumni and former Nancy’s Chair of MSVU, I am proud to be part of this historical day. I know that many students from MSVU have inquired about the MSVU connection to the legacy of Shubenacadie Residential School. I am happy that they will see that there is action being taken to respond to their concerns as students. M’sit Nokomaq/All My relations.”
The full text of the apology and list of commitments appear below.
Dr. Lumpkin noted her deep gratitude to the survivors, elders, Indigenous community members, L’nu Advisory Circle members including Patrick Small Legs-Nagge, Special Advisor on Indigenous Affairs at MSVU, and others who contributed to the critical conversations that have taken place at MSVU over the past many months regarding the university’s connection to residential schools.
“We took the time to learn and to do what is most desired by those who have suffered and continue to suffer from this tragic past,” said Dr. Lumpkin. “Indigenous advisors made clear to us that MSVU should continue to work with Indigenous experts to build educational programs and services that will benefit the Indigenous Peoples of today and tomorrow.”
Mount Saint Vincent University
Apology and Commitments from MSVU to Indigenous Peoples
Mount Saint Vincent University is deeply sorry for our role in the tragedy of residential schools in Canada.
The Sisters of Charity Halifax, the founders and previous owners of Mount Saint Vincent University, had members who staffed the Shubenacadie Residential School in Nova Scotia, which was open from 1930 to 1967, and the Cranbrook Residential School in British Columbia, which was open from 1890 to 1970.
MSVU’s responsibility also extends to actions and inactions shared by many Canadian universities:
- We educated people who worked at the schools and others who took their place in a society dismissive of Indigenous treaties and rights.
- For many years, we did not address the exclusion of Indigenous youth from the benefits and advantages of a university education.
- We were often ignorant, sometimes simply silent, about the damage done to children by the residential schools: our professors did not teach about this history; it was absent from our curriculum.
- We did not reach out whole-heartedly to welcome Indigenous youth to our campus or to give them the supports they needed to succeed.
We apologize to all of you who are survivors of residential schools, to your families and communities, and to all Indigenous peoples.
Each recovery of a child’s unmarked grave has deepened our grief at the immense injustice carried out across our country, as children were torn from their language, their culture and their families.
We realize that the abuse enacted upon these children has passed down across generations, devastating not only the survivors but their families and communities.
We have taken steps to change our university but recognize that more needs to be done.
We will build upon efforts already undertaken, and with the valued advice of Indigenous community Elders and leaders as our guide. In particular, we are deeply grateful for the continued leadership of the L’nu Advisory Circle at MSVU, a collective of Indigenous and non-Indigenous community, student, faculty and staff representatives dedicated to advancing work in support of Indigenous learners and communities. We will emphasize listening and learning, followed by enduring action.
- We will continue to decolonize course content and develop Indigenous informed course content within all Faculties at the Mount.
- We will work to ensure that students in all programs at the Mount learn about the harmful effects of racism and about the tragic history of the residential schools in Canada.
- We will consult with Mi’kmaq communities with regard to offering academic programs in their communities.
- We will expand financial supports for Indigenous students at the Mount
- We will promote the services of our Indigenous Student Centre, including its provision of residence space for female Indigenous students.
- We will host a ceremonial Healing Circle with L’nu members from the Advisory Circle to meet with the Board of Governors and the Senate to hear from First Voices their concerns about what is happening regionally and nationally in Canada.
- We will ask the Board of Governors and Senate to consider their roles and responsibilities in reconciliation, including the representation of the Mi’kmaq community within University governance bodies.
- We will reinstate our Elder in Residence program, creating ways for Elders to be a more vital part of our campus community and ensuring that these Elders’ contributions and needs are respected.
- We will build upon recent changes in our policies that recognize the value of Indigenous knowledge and research in faculty renewal, promotion, and tenure decisions and that recognize diverse credentials for hiring Indigenous faculty.
- We will work to engage the campus as a whole in honouring the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, Treaty Day, Mi’kmaq History Month, and other days and events that reflect Mi’kmaq history and culture.
- We will host public forums to bring Indigenous and non-Indigenous people together to discuss our country’s history of racist practices; the persistence of harms into the present day; and ways we can work together to heal the damage that has been done.
- We will seek collaboration with all HRM universities, creating opportunities for Indigenous faculty and staff to share initiatives and work together.
We will also continue the commitments made in our strategic plan 2021-2028, “Strength through Community”:
- Ensure that MSVU’s policies, practices and procedures are aligned with the principles of Truth and Reconciliation.
- Actively recruit and retain Indigenous faculty, staff and students and provide a welcoming, supportive and safe campus environment for Indigenous peoples.
- Be a national leader in providing education and awareness about Truth and Reconciliation, missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, 2SLGBTQIA+, and about the issues and root causes of the violence they experience.
While these commitments represent progress towards a meaningful path forward, we will continue to consult, listen to and learn from members of our Indigenous community. This is therefore an ongoing process which will evolve over time.
We will walk with Indigenous community members on a healing journey, recognizing that the truth needs to be heard and acknowledged in order to advance long-term sustainable change.
Ramona Lumpkin, CM, PhD
Interim President and Vice-Chancellor
Mount Saint Vincent University
MSVU is located on unceded ancestral Mi’kmaq territory. This territory is covered by the Covenant Chain of Treaties of Peace and Friendship signed between 1725 and 1779. We pay respect to the knowledge embedded in the Indigenous custodians of this land and to the Elders, past, present, and future.