Green Bay Press Gazette [Green Bay WI]
November 4, 2021
By Frank Vaisvilas
As the church bells ring twice a day, at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., every day at St. Anthony’s in Neopit on the Menominee Reservation, advocate Lorraine Shooter said the post-traumatic stress disorder in some of the elders nearby becomes triggered.
The elders had been students at St. Anthony’s School at a time when U.S. government and church policy was to forcefully assimilate Indigenous youth and separate them from their traditional culture and language.
Shooter, who’s with the organization Menominees Against Dope, helped organize a vigil in Keshena Tuesday night for the survivors of abuse at Catholic schools and to demand accountability.
Dewey Schanandore, 75, said he suffered regular physical abuse when he attended St. Anthony School from 1954 to 1962.
He recalls the first time it happened in third grade when he was sitting at his desk studying when a teacher knocked him on the head with no warning and no reason, causing him to fall to the ground.
“They call that being baptized in violence,” Schanandore said.
He said the physical abuse was used as a kind of mind control to enforce a policy of assimilation.
“They tried to remove our cultural awareness and replace it with European values,” Schanandore said as he described the techniques as torture. “With that in mind, they never broke my spirit.”
He said he grew up with other Indigenous children who has also suffered physical abuse and some had suffered sexual abuse, especially at the boarding school of St. Michael’s in Keshena.
Schanandore said the candlelight vigil was the first event of its kind on the reservation he knows of that addressed what happened to the victims.
“Tonight, we’re going to bring those spirits with us,” he said. “They’re going to walk with us as we uncover the past. … That’s the way we heal ourselves.”
Schanandore’s sister, Rose Schanandore, said she also suffered physical abuse by teachers at St. Anthony’s as a young girl.
“I was traumatized by it,” she said. “I hadn’t ever even been hit by my own family members.”
Rose Schanandore said Catholic officials have never acknowledged the abuse that took place on the Menominee Reservation.
“It’s a long time coming for us and justice has to be served,” she said. “They damaged a lot of families and took away our culture.”
Shooter said the forced assimilation and taking away of Indigenous language and traditions, such as hunting during that time, led to intergenerational trauma that’s a major cause of much of the problems on the reservation today, such as a high suicide and addiction rates.
“We want acknowledgement from the Catholic Church, especially from the Diocese of Green Bay,” she said. “It doesn’t take much for them, just a paragraph to acknowledge and say they’re addressing it. They’ve been very silent. … They’re on stolen land. The Menominee people have been here for thousands of years.”
Shooter said more survivors wanted to be at the vigil, but it became too emotionally stressing for them.
Schanandore said he had a cordial conversation with Bishop David Ricken with Diocese of Green Bay this summer.
A spokesperson for the diocese acknowledged that the meeting took place, but the Menominee community had been served by other Catholic organizations during the 1950s and 1960s.
“Since the August meeting (with Shanandore), the Diocese of Green Bay has been reviewing files, however, religious order priests and sisters from outside the diocese served the Menominee Reservation schools and parishes in Neopit and Keshena during that time period,” the spokesperson said. “We are aware of the complicated history of the residential schools, and the Catholic Church’s involvement in running these schools in the United States. We remain committed to understanding our history of involvement with Native American communities in the Diocese of Green Bay as we work towards a place of healing for all.”
Members of the Milwaukee chapter of Ending Clergy Abuse and its Nate’s Mission initiative also were invited to the candlelight vigil and made comments about the lasting effects of clergy abuse.
Organizers said they wanted the event to occur on All Soul’s Day in light of recent discoveries of mass graves at Indian boarding schools in Canada and the announcement of an official review of boarding schools in the U.S. by the Department of the Interior.
They are also calling on the Wisconsin attorney general’s office to include Catholic-run Indian residential schools in the investigation into clergy abuse.
Attorney General Josh Kaul launched the investigation into clergy abuse in April, establishing a hotline and online reporting tool for survivors and others with knowledge of abuse at the hands of clergy members within the Catholic Church and other denominations, as reports of abuse have continued to surface across the state.
“The history of Indian boarding schools is shameful and disturbing,” Kaul said in a statement. “I am glad that U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland has initiated a comprehensive national review and that Governor Evers issued Executive Order 136 apologizing for the history of Indian boarding schools in Wisconsin.”
He encourages survivors and those with knowledge to call 877-222-2620 or to use the online reporting tool at supportsurvivors.widoj.gov.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Laura Schulte contributed to the report.
Frank Vaisvilas is a Report For America corps member based at the Green Bay Press-Gazette covering Native American issues in Wisconsin. He can be reached at 920-228-0437 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @vaisvilas_frank. Please consider supporting journalism that informs our democracy with a tax-deductible gift to this reporting effort at GreenBayPressGazette.com/RFA.