Catholic order gives $150K to support Indigenous nursing students at Thompson Rivers University

A group of Victoria-based Catholic nuns have donated $150,000 to support Indigenous nursing students at Thompson Rivers University as an act of reconciliation.

On March 25, the university headquartered in Kamloops, B.C., announced that the donation from Sisters of St. Ann will be used to establish an endowment fund for sponsoring elder-in-residence programs and other culturally appropriate projects for its First Nations nursing students.

The endowment fund will also be used to create an award for nursing students who will do their practice placements in First Nations, Inuit or Métis communities.

The Sisters of St. Ann is an order of Roman Catholic nuns founded in Quebec in 1850. In 1890, nuns from the order began teaching at the Kamloops Indian Residential School, one of more than 100 schools across Canada attended by about 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children from the 1820s to 1990s.

The children were removed from their families and not allowed to speak their own languages. Many were sexually, physically or psychologically abused, a situation described by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as cultural genocide.

The Kamloops Indian Residential School was permanently closed in 1977. From 2008 to 2015, the Sisters of St. Ann participated in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings on Indian residential schools. 

Sister Marie Zarowny, the president of Sisters of St. Ann, says the donation to Thompson Rivers University is part of her group’s reconciliation with Indigenous communities after the hearings ended.

“We certainly have made a commitment during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings … to strive for ways to support the First Nations communities in ways that are culturally appropriate for them and that help them achieve their own goals and objectives,” Zarowny told CBC story producer Jennifer Chrumka.

Lisa Bourque Bearskin, the Indigenous research chair in nursing with Thompson Rivers University, says she cannot speak for the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation, whose traditional territories include Kamloops. But as a Cree residential school survivor, she says she finds the donation meaningful.

“This is a significant first step within the local territory of Secwépemc Nation in terms of moving that step forward, and so providing these opportunities for nursing students from within this region is a powerful message of action,” Bearskin said.

Decades ago, there were about 300 members of the order of the Sisters of St. Ann, but there are only 23 members today. They have been selling their assets and giving away millions of dollars for causes that align with their values. 

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