Catholic schools for Native Americans, known for abuse and assimilation, try to do good

Washington Post

By Naomi Schaefer Riley
August 2

“The majority of the kids I went to school with are dead,” says Manny Jules, “because of the experience they had, the abuse.”

Jules, 63, is the former chief of the Kamloops band of First Nations in British Columbia. As a child, he attended a residential Catholic school, where he remembers students experiencing physical, sexual and emotional abuse while separated from their families and community.

This trauma, shared for decades by Native American youths across Canada and the United States who were sent to Catholic schools, is at least in part to blame for the high level of alcoholism, drug abuse and suicide in Indian communities.

Today, the Catholic Church has apologized – Pope Benedict XVI did so in 2009; Pope Francis did in 2015. But the Church still operates schools for Native children. And that is where the real reconciliation is happening.

Take the St. Labre mission in southeastern Montana. Named after the French saint Benedict Joseph Labre, St. Labre was founded in 1884 by a small group of Catholic Ursuline Sisters from Toledo. Today, Saint Labre runs a variety of programs for the Crow and Northern Cheyenne peoples, including group homes for children whose parents can’t care for them, elder services, day care and job training.

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