SEATTLE – The bishops of the Archdiocese of Seattle are acknowledging “the real pain that our Native American brothers and sisters are feeling” after the discovery of nearly 1,000 unmarked children’s graves in Canada at former residential schools for Indigenous children.

“The recent discovery of the unmarked children’s graves in Canada is heartbreaking, not only for those nations but for all people,” said the July 6 statement signed by Archbishop Paul D. Etienne and Auxiliary Bishops Eusebio Elizondo and Daniel Mueggenborg. “We wish to stand in solidarity with them as the story behind these graves comes to light.”

The graves were discovered at former residential schools in Kamloops, British Columbia, and in Saskatchewan that at one time were operated by the Catholic Church. In response, the U.S. Interior Department announced June 22 that it will investigate former federally funded Native American boarding schools in the U.S. to search for graves. Many of these government-funded schools were church-run boarding schools.

In a statement, Chieko Noguchi, a spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said the bishops will “look for ways to be of assistance” in the investigation. “It is important to understand what might have occurred here in the United States.” 

The Seattle bishops said they recognize that “each individual tribe in our own archdiocese and across the continent has had a differing experience with the Catholic Church.”

The Archdiocese of Seattle has “a long history with our Native American brothers and sisters. Our relationship with different tribes over time has been both positive, and sadly, potentially harmful at times,” the bishops said.

To better understand that history and ensure “continued openhearted relationships with all the tribes,” the bishops will partner with their Native American Advisory Board, a group of leaders from regional tribes that “will help guide our efforts moving forward.”

In closing, the bishops noted “we are all children of God, connected to each other and the world around us. We ask everyone to pray for the healing and strength of our Native American brothers and sisters — and for each other. We continue to pray for you as we stand in solidarity with everyone who has been harmed by the Church.”

Read the full statement here.