CANADA The Manitoba Indigenous Nation is open to a possible...

The Manitoba Indigenous Nation is open to a possible police investigation into an accused priest who worked there in the early 1960s.


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Pine Creek First Nations chief Derek Nepinak says some members of his community may talk to police about Father Arthur Mass, who was principal of a local boarding school in the mid-to-late 1960s. (Ian Froese/CBC)

WARNING: This story contains embarrassing details.

A Manitoba First Nations chief says he is open to the idea of ​​a police investigation into the behavior of a former boarding school chaplain who is now facing criminal charges of child abuse at a school in another First Nations community in the province.

Minegozibe Anishinabe (Pine Creek) First Nation Chief Derek Nepinac said retired father Arthur Masse also spent time at Pine Creek boarding school northwest of Winnipeg on Friday and was “notorious” there.

Massa, 92, is charged in connection with the sexual assault of a 10-year-old student at the Fort Alexander boarding school, northeast of Winnipeg, sometime between 1968 and 1970.

Masse was the principal of the so-called Pine Creek Boarding School from July 1961 to July 1966, according to the records of the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation.

“I understand that there are people who might want to speak up, and… as a community, we are now opening a dialogue to see if anyone in our community wants to talk about their skirmishes and encounters with this person,” Nepinak. said.

“I heard stories about how he treated young people in society,” he said.

Information compiled by the Societe historique de Saint-Boniface, an archive in Manitoba, says that Masse was born in Ferland, Sask, in 1929. His first position was at Fort Francis Boarding School in northern Ontario, where he remained until 1957.

He later returned to that school in 1970 and ran the student residence until it closed four years later. Masse worked at a number of other schools during his time away from Fort Francis.

Nepinac said the Catholic Church maintains a presence in his community and next week its members will meet with Archbishop Albert LeGatt of Archbishop Saint Boniface to talk about the church’s history.

“And we’re going to ask some of these tough questions that come up today, like why [Masse] allowed to move from one community to another for so many years, when there would certainly be causes for concern and incidents that would be reported but still not resolved,” Nepinak said.

New potential unmarked graves

News of Masse’s arrest came the same day the community learned that ground-penetrating radar searches in and around the former boarding school had uncovered 27 new anomalies that could be unmarked graves.

Earlier in June, the community reported the discovery of six such anomalies following a search in May. The school on the western shore of Lake Winnipegosis was built in the 1890s and closed in 1969.

AltoMaxx employees use a drone on May 11 as part of a ground-penetrating radar search at Pine Creek First Nations in Manitoba. After an initial search turned up six anomalies, the community said on Friday that further searches have uncovered 27 more. (Angela McKay / Pine Creek First Nation)

The next search is scheduled for Monday.

According to Nepinak, the discovery of additional anomalies is not a surprise.

“I think the community has been preparing for the impact over the past few months… It’s a heavy feeling in our community, a heavy heart knowing that there are often more questions than answers when things like this happen.

“But overall, I think the community is doing the best they can with the information and we’re taking it day by day.”

In a statement to the community on behalf of himself and the council, Nepinak said they would be working with the Catholic Church and the documents they were able to obtain to see if any anomalies matched the marked graves.

They will also match the cards with known names of children who died at school. “But we still have work to do as these records are incomplete,” the statement said.

Nepinak said the community has yet to decide if it will exhume any of the potential burials.

“This is still a very difficult question. It is not important to find answers to what is the appropriate commemoration,” he said.

“We have these discussions and…we take them day by day and we ask these hard questions, but we don’t ask for immediate answers. We just hope to come to a place where everyone can accept what we are doing and we have properly documented so that our children’s children know what we were doing during this time,” Nepinak said.

Support is available to anyone who has been affected by their boarding school experience or recent reports.

A national crisis line for Indian boarding schools has been set up to provide support to former students and victims. People can access emotional and crisis help services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

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