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 said Monday that 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.
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, it said in a statement.
University spokesman Matthew Ramsey said a review by UBC’s senate has been expedited and the process will include consultation with Indigenous communities and academic experts.
He provided a statement issued by the university’s 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.”
O’Grady died in 1998.
The university said it’s among post-secondary institutions that bear part of the responsibility for the tragic history linked with residential schools, “not only for having trained policy-makers and administrators who operated the residential school system, and doing so little to address the exclusion from higher education that the schools so effectively created, but also for tacitly accepting the silence surrounding it.”
The statement says that while the university will be celebrating National Indigenous History Month in June, it’s reminded that history includes tragedy and sorrow as well as achievement and pride.
“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,” the statement says.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 31, 2021.
Camille Bains, The Canadian Press