Fort McMurray Catholic School Division And Athabasca Tribal Council Provide Update on Downtown School

(Fort McMurray, AB, June 27, 2022)-  At the Fort McMurray Catholic School Board of Education meeting on April 4, 2022 the Board officially approved a recommendation to rename Father Turcotte School due to serious allegations which were brought forward to the community. The Fort McMurray Catholic School Division immediately reached out to local Indigenous leaders in the region when the allegations were made to seek to understand and learn more. In partnership the decision was made to rename the school. 

Following the decision to rename the downtown school in April, additional survivors came forward and revealed their abuser was in fact not Father Turcotte. This miscommunication is a regrettable event and an error for which we humbly apologize. 

“We would like to thank Athabasca Tribal Council, and in particular the citizens of Fort Chipewyan, who recognized that Father Turcotte was mistakenly identified, and is innocent of previous allegations made against him. The path to Truth and Reconciliation is long, often heartbreaking, and never easy. Reconciliation requires trust, accountability, and transparency. As a Board, we take full responsibility for hastily removing Father Turcotte’s name from our downtown school. Our failure to ensure due diligence resulted in unnecessary heartache within our Catholic community and for this we apologize. We appreciate the great work done by ATC, in coordination with Superintendent George McGuigan and our Senior Administration, to ensure that this wrong is righted,” explains Fort McMurray Catholic School Board Chair Cathie Langmead.

“As Catholics, we recognize and acknowledge that as European settlers and since the beginning of Catholic education in Alberta, systemic racism and abuse has been perpetuated, particularly against First Nations peoples,” continues Board Chair Cathie Langmead. “It is our responsibility to ensure that we continue to redress the legacy of residential schools. It is also our responsibility to recognize and celebrate those within our community who positively impacted Catholic education. To that end, over the summer months we will look for an appropriate alternative to recognize the positive impact that Father J.A. Turcotte, OMI had on Catholic Education in our community.”

“ATC recognizes that this new information identifies Brother Turcotte as the abuser, not Father Turcotte, for whom the school was originally named,” said Chief Adam, President of Athabasca Tribal Council. “The name Turcotte continues to be a deeply traumatic trigger for survivors in our Indigenous communities, and we need to respect that. We agree that work to correct the mistaken identity of Father Turcotte is necessary and can take other forms that still respect the impact on survivors.”

“It is deeply regrettable that we have tarnished his great name, not only as a highly respected Priest in our community, but as a foundational leader in the development of Catholic Education in this region. It is through his insightful leadership that we have developed into such a strong Catholic Education Division. Our Board of Trustees will work to ensure his name will be fully restored and recognized. Unfortunately, the legacy of residential schools continues to impact survivors and has created intergenerational trauma. We will work to restore the good name of Father Turcotte while continuing to shed light on the serious history and legacy of residential schools,” said Fort McMurray Catholic Schools Superintendent George McGuigan.

The Fort McMurray Catholic Board of Education has decided moving forward the school will continue to be called Our Lady of the Rivers, but continue to honour Father Turcotte in many ways. Our Lady of the Rivers represents a combination of the acknowledgment of the important role the rivers play in providing life to our region as well as the protection that Mary, mother of Jesus, provides for our school community. 

Education is the future as well as the present. Every day we work to listen, to learn, and to share within the Fort McMurray Catholic Schools family. 

The 24-hour National Indian Residential School Crisis Line was created to provide support to residential school survivors. Individuals can call 1-866-925-4419 to access emotional and crisis referral services.