Students at the Garnier Indian Residential School in Spanish, Ontario, subsisted on tea and mush. They had no eggs or butter or sugar. They had soup, oftentimes, and turnip in the afternoons. In the mornings they’d have a bread roll, stale – a couple days old.
The ones the priests enjoyed were fresh, their plates full. Kahnawa’kehró:non Wayne Delormier – who was forced to attend the school from the age of nine in 1949 until 1954 – knows this well. He had a job to do at the long dining table where the priests ate.
“All the while they were eating, I had to read the Bible so they would keep their minds off the gluttony, keep their minds off the food,” said Delormier.
Some other children had jobs in the kitchen, working for brother Mara – James Mara – a tall, sandy-haired cook. The kitchen gave him access to all the food he could want, of course, which he doled out to some of the boys, the ones he favoured. It also gave him access to a cellar, where he kept the preserves, at the bottom of a stairway connected to the kitchen. That’s where he would lure the boys.
“Mara, he was into that shit,” said Delormier.
“He was a molester, that’s what the hell he was,” Delormier continued. “I even caught him a few times, in the root cellar.”
One day, Mara was found in the snow, full of blood. He had been fetching eggs for the priests from the chicken coop, about a quarter mile from the school.
“They put him in the ambulance, took him away,” said Delormier. “They brought him back and put him in seclusion, they called it, and they sent him away.”
Mara would go on to spend years shuffling from one assignment to another as a Jesuit brother. He died in 1992.
Mara’s name is just one of 27 on a bombshell list – the first of its kind in Canada – released by the Jesuits of Canada that identifies the church’s fathers and brothers credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor, including a clergyman who was assigned to Kahnawake.
Father Henri Lalonde, whose name is listed, spent years associated with the St. Francis Xavier Mission Catholic Church in town.
Five other men on the list were assigned to the Spanish residential school: Joseph Barker, Lawrence Brennan, Frederick Costello, George Epoch, and William Westaway. Michael Murray was also assigned to Spanish, Ontario, but unlike the others it is not specified that he was at the residential school.
All eight men are now dead, but the list is a fresh reminder of the outsized impact of sexual abuse on generations of Indigenous children, a major component of the intergenerational trauma that continues to plague Onkwehón:we.
“There is no explanation and no excuse for why these men, who had the potential to do so much good in First Nations communities, considered it acceptable to prey on disadvantaged children,” said José Sánchez, spokesperson for the Jesuits of Canada.
While he said many allegations came out only after the deaths of the guilty, this was not always the case.
“In cases where complaints were brought forward while an offending Jesuit was alive, there are shameful instances where the reputation of the Society of Jesus was put before the well-being of the victims,” said Sánchez. “Contemporaneous reports of improper conduct were often understated because sexual abuse by respected clergy was considered to be unthinkable.”
Lalonde was at the Kahnawake church full-time as an assistant pastor and musical director from 1967 until 1969, but he continued to lead the choir into the early 1970s. His involvement with the church may have begun well before the late 1960s, perhaps even in earlier decades. To this day, a photo of Lalonde and the Iroquois Mixed Choir, for which he was musical director, hangs in the museum of the Kahnawake church.
“I can tell you unequivocally Henri Lalonde belongs on that list,” said investigator Brian King of King International, which has been commissioned by the Jesuits to investigate allegations of sexual abuse in the church.
For community members, one name is conspicuously absent from the list, however, after a high-profile investigation into father Léon Lajoie concluded last year that allegations of sexual abuse against him were unsupported, dividing the community.
Lajoie, who had been buried on the grounds of the church, was nevertheless exhumed after a community-wide vote to remove him.
That investigation has left some without trust in the inquiries. One community member who had publicly accused Lajoie, Patricia Kaniente Stacey, told The Eastern Door at the time the report’s summary was released that she had refused to participate because in her view it was tantamount to the Jesuits investigating themselves, a claim King denies.
“I’ll tell you the same thing as we tell everybody: they get the information, good, bad, or indifferent. We don’t candy-coat anything.”
According to King, in at least one case a community member with a complaint against father Lajoie had mistaken him for Lalonde, who committed the abuse. Regardless, investigations into sexual abuse at the church continue, and the case pertaining to father Lajoie is not closed – any new accusations will be fully investigated, King said.
King also confirmed that there is another credible instance of sexual abuse of a minor at the church that has not yet been conclusively linked to an individual, but which was perpetrated by somebody besides Lalonde or Lajoie.
“I think many of us had to do soul searching, in terms of whether you remain in the church or not, differentiating between what the act of man is versus God’s plan for us,” said church committee member Rheena Diabo about the past two years, since the Lajoie allegations surfaced. “It’s been a challenge.”
The list was not addressed at Sunday’s church service, according to Diabo, although it was discussed amongst committee members after its release last Monday.
While the past two years prepared the congregation for revelations of predators embedded in the church’s living history, the publication of the list still caught them off guard.
“Last week, we woke up to see the list had been released on the news,” said Diabo. She feels the Jesuits of Canada should have warned the church, to help them prepare the congregation and to brace for further allegations.
“I suspect the allegations that were made against father Lalonde probably didn’t represent all the misconduct that he effected while here at the mission,” said Diabo.
She said if someone complained about the photo of the choir in the museum, they would consider a solution such as altering the picture to remove Lalonde, noting that the choir was world-renowned.
“We’re not insensitive to people, but also at the same time we don’t want to cover up anything either,” said Diabo.
“If we were to get a request, we would consider it, but without defacing the historical archive,” she added.
“I don’t know how you do that,” she conceded.
Those who wish to lodge a complaint to be investigated no longer have to go to King directly. Kahnawa’kehró:non Louise Mayo has been appointed independent coordinator and advocate.
Mayo, who coordinated Indian day school claims in Kahnawake, has over 30 years of experience working with people who have been sexually abused. She said in her previous role, Kahnawa’kehró:non approached her about abuses they suffered at the church.
“I had many community members who contacted me and asked if they can make a report if it’s not father Lajoie,” said Mayo. She learned at that time that other priests were also being investigated.
“We are making every effort to ensure a community member is heard and that they have the opportunity to share their story, and that we can decipher through the story the credibility of what happened to them,” said Mayo.
“When we speak about credibility, it’s not that we’re saying the person is not credible in their story,” she continued. “We’re saying we do not have enough facts to charge that particular person because maybe the timelines don’t meet or the incidents where they describe it don’t meet where that person could have been at that particular time.
“We will never assume a person is making it up because that is totally wrong,” she said.
Victims of abuses deemed credible are eligible for some degree of compensation from the Jesuits, she said, but this is decided on a case-by-case basis. Those who have received money stemming from sexual abuse at an Indian day school cannot be compensated again, however.
Mayo is also there to help connect victims to the social services they may need to cope with the trauma that the process of lodging a complaint, or even simply the news of allegations, could reopen.
“I think it always brings up a lot of feelings for a lot of people,” said Alana Kane, manager of mental wellness and addictions at Kahnawake Shakotiia’takehnhas Community Services (KSCS), noting that public allegations can trigger not only traumatic memories of sexual abuse but also painful reflections on other inequities and injustices faced by Onkwehón:we.
One-on-one counselling, online services, helplines, and a variety of groups are some of the services KSCS can provide or connect people with. Some of these groups can help family members of those who are suffering as well.
“People have to understand this is a big thing,” said Kane. “Things might come up for you even though you’re not a complainant, necessarily. Just by hearing about these things, seeing it in the news, it might trigger things for you and we’re hoping to be a safe space to land.”
She noted the importance of believing survivors of sexual abuse and expressed hope that investigations in general can grow to become more trauma-informed, understanding that trauma can undermine the clarity of memories.
“We’re still trying to destigmatize different struggles in the community,” said Kane. “I would really hope anyone that is struggling with regards to this specifically or anything else that they’ve gone through that there are community resources that are there that want to help, that are there for survivors.”
Victims of sexual abuse related to the church who are considering lodging a complaint can contact Louise Mayo at 514-793-0662 or Brian King at 416-628-6877 ext. 222. KSCS can be reached at 450-632-6880.
Marcus Bankuti, Local Journalism Initiative reporter
Marcus is managing editor of The Eastern Door, where he has been reporting since 2021 on issues that matter to Kahnawake and Kanesatake. He was previously editor-in-chief of The Link and a contributing editor at Our Canada magazine.