Native American Boarding Schools

I searched CA and the forums and was surprised I couldn’t find anything on this:

What truth is there to the involvement of Catholic clergy in the abuse of Native American children in boarding schools? What involvement was there by the Church as an institution?

I live near a reservation and have heard a lot of accusations. All the sources I find online have an anti-religious tone and so I question their accuracy.


Yeah, it happened, just as it did in non-native schools and churches. The Jesuits here in Oregon settled with over 400 Native Americans who suffered sex abuse decades ago.

But many Native Americans have additional reason to distrust and dislike the Catholic boarding schools. The priests and nuns have widely been accused of trying to suppress the Indian culture of their students.

It happened throughout North America:

Residential Schools

Residential schools for Aboriginal people in Canada date back to the 1870s. Over 130 residential schools were located across the country, and the last school closed in 1996. These government-funded, church-run schools were set up to eliminate parental involvement in the intellectual, cultural, and spiritual development of Aboriginal children.

During this era, more than 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children were placed in these schools often against their parents’ wishes. Many were forbidden to speak their language and practice their own culture. While there is an estimated 80,000 former students living today, the ongoing impact of residential schools has been felt throughout generations and has contributed to social problems that continue to exist.

Not only was it cultural assimilation at its worse, sexual and physical abuse was rampant.

I struggle with this too.

it’s a big thing in Canada. and a huge stumbling block for me to evangelization

why on earth did anyone think it was ok to do those things? and it doesn’t seem to be just a handful of bad apples, seems like abuse was quite common

why would any first nations want anything to do with a church who did this? it’s hard for me to counter this. just saying, the church is full of sinners, just doesn’t seem to cut it

[quote=angell1;12918155why on earth did anyone think it was ok to do those things? and it doesn’t seem to be just a handful of bad apples, seems like abuse was quite common
I don’t think anyone ever thought it was OK. But it is a mystery to me that the problem seems to have “flared up” in many places within the same timeframe (but without any cross-coordination), and then it died down even before it became widely known and investigated.

why would any first nations want anything to do with a church who did this?

There are no first nations. If you think there is such a thing, please give us the name of this so-called “first nation.”

it’s hard for me to counter this. just saying, the church is full of sinners, just doesn’t seem to cut it

Everyone in the Church is a sinner. Every Saint (except our Blessed Mother) was a sinner. Every Pope is a sinner. Every Bishop is a sinner. Every priest is a sinner. Every deacon is a sinner. Every Religious Brother and Sister is a sinner. Every layperson is a sinner.

Sorry, but that’s the way it is.

First Nations is the Canadian term for Native Americans. The Indians were here first.

Untrue Story -

I also live near a reservation & occasionally attend Mass there. My husband works part-time at the Mission church.

The abuse was terrible and it is well documented. My husband has talked with Indians who were abused at the Mission boarding school by Jesuit priests. It’s the sort of thing that makes it hard to be a Catholic. But to be fair, there was abuse by Protestants, too.

I’m always surprised that there are so many Catholics on the reservation. But they are pretty much uneducated about the faith. There is, as far as I know, no more abuse of Indian children at the Mission boarding school (which is still active), but they learn little about the faith. The adults are similarly uneducated. The previous priest’s homilies were often about biology. He had been a teacher and didn’t see any reason to change his subject matter! The present priest is terribly overworked. I don’t know if it is lack of time or inclination, but his homilies are of the spiritual feel-good variety. There is little or no instruction before baptisms or weddings.

Sorry for thread hi-jack - this is a sore spot with me!

But not THOSE Indians. The American Cherokee tribe (for example) conquered at least six other tribes, assimilating them into the Cherokee nation (such as it was 400+ years ago).

American Indian tribes were often nomadic and prone to warfare. They have no more “claim” to this land than the European settlers. They were not the “first” nations - they were the Indians who happened to be in control when the Europeans landed. The Europeans took Indian land, just as the Indians had taken it from other tribes.

There are no “first” nations anywhere on earth. There only the conquerors and the conquered.

FWIW, I am 1/16 Cherokee Indian.

There is an inherent difficulty in trying to lay moral judgments on actions taken more than a century ago. There is no denying the harm that was caused in the residential schools, but when we ask questions like “why would anyone think it was ok to do those things?” we are ignoring the fact that these schools were operating in a completely different world. We don’t have statistics for the incidence of abuse (including sexual abuse) in the home or community, but we do know that it simply was not talked about as it is now. We know that the same public attention that is now used to condemn such actions was not brought to bear on those horrors in that time.

The residential schools have become a focal point for acknowledging these horrors not because it was the only place where this was happening but because (1) it intersected with some pretty terrible racial rhetoric and (2) there were means of corroborating and confirming those accounts because they were so concentrated.

I’m not saying that what happened there wasn’t horrific. It was. I’m saying it wasn’t an anomaly that can be laid at the feet of the Catholic Church. It was a reflection of the world in which these schools operated.

In addition to all of the above, I think one of the other main tragedies was the forced loss of culture. Being forbiden to be who you are - not being allowed to wear traditional dress, not being allowed to sing your traditional songs, dance your traditional dances, and most tragic of all - not being allowed to speak your own language. The cultural loss is almost unthinkable.

Mi’kmaq dancing was only publically revived in (I believe) the 70’s, or possibly 60’s. People were afraid to do traditional dances in fear of repercussions from the church.

As others have previously mentioned, First Nations refers to the various native nations pre, and for a short while, post European contact. Some of these nations may have conquered other nations, but they were all here before Europeans.

While the wide-spread cultural abuse happened long ago, the physical & sexual abuse was still happening in the last 50 years. The Indian men who have told my husband about the abuse that happened to them are not ancient; they are in their 40s, 50s, & 60s.

I suspect that this happened in many other cultures, too. I remember reading that in the 1800s in Ireland, Irish dancing was forbidden by the Church. I don’t remember why.

Dancing, singing, holidays (holy days), language and certain rituals etc often are attached to religious beliefs and it’s common that those things are forbidden to “break the cycle” when trying to bring people to a different religion or type of politics.

It rips at the heart of the individuals as well as their entire culture when it is forbidden, vilified and punished.

So much history, art, and culture is lost, but to the victor go the spoils.

People of one group often explain away the significance of it happening to another group while they mourn and protest when it’s happening to them.

If you read history, you will see that Anglicans were no better than the Catholic boarding schools for Indians in the US and Canada.

This is a well known fact. The Anglican Church has had problems with all abuse in several other countries.

This occurred years ago and let up pray that this type of behavior is now not acceptable anywhere by any denomination.

I surely don’t understand the treatment, however, from understanding some of the social norms much of this type of behavior was directed at many children white or others during a certain time frame in history.

May Jesus have mercy on us sinners.

Yours in the Hearts of Jesus and Mary


It’s true there was a lot of abuse in almost all boarding schools back in the 18th and 19th centuries. Those boarding schools where the teachers were actually kind and sane were regarded as exceptions. Eton and Harrow, the most expensive boarding schools in the UK, were full of teacher abuse of wealthy and noble children, as well as child-on-child bullying and sexual abuse. There was a sort of “perfect storm” of bad ideas that caused this.

There were also reform movements working to stop abuse and make teaching more reasonable, like the “kindergarten” movement, Montessori, and Don Bosco’s Salesian teaching techniques.

  1. Obviously creepy people who like to abuse children are the main danger in all ages. If you don’t keep them out, they will try to get in charge; and a lot of them are cunning social manipulators.

  2. There was a social theory that parental love and care was bad for kids’ development, beyond a certain age. Obviously this can be true with helicopter parents, but this theory thought it was all parents. Treating kids badly and treating them with emotional coldness was good for their character.

  3. There was a health theory that warm clothing, sufficient food, and heated buildings were bad for kids and made them grow up weak and sickly. They also were supposed to promote sexual misconduct.

  4. There was a theory that the only thing that held a society together was having the exact same language, accent, schooling, and customs for everyone. This was very prevalent in France, where a lot of missionaries came from. It was used against the Catholic Church a lot, though, so I’m not sure why people bought into it.

  5. There was a theory that knowing any non-elite language or culture would hold you back in life, whereas it was awesome to speak several European languages. It was cruel to let English kids raised in India remember their Hindi, for example; they had to be shipped back to the UK for their schooling so that they would fit into English society and forget Indian society. (Even if they would be going back to India to work when they became adults.)

  6. There was a theory that all Native American cultures (like all rural European cultures) were intrinsically backward and tainted with paganism and the occult. Therefore, the best thing to do was to destroy them and start anew. Again, similar theories were often used against Catholics in Europe and the US, and particularly against the Irish; so I’m not sure why Catholic religious orders bought into this “progressive” and “enlightened” idea.

  7. There was a theory that all kids should have self-control and moral judgment that was equal to adults, if they were old enough to go to school. Of course, there was a big shift in this time, away from kids becoming working adults at the age of 10 or 12 or 14, so the expectations placed on kids varied a lot.

  8. There was a theory that a lack of exact obedience was a serious moral flaw, and that if not corrected instantly and overwhelmingly, the kid would become a vicious criminal.

  9. There was also a theory that adults who got any disobedience at all from kids were demonstrating their own weakness and worthlessness.

  10. Many religious orders during the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries were given to punishing themselves in extremely strict ways for extremely minor infractions, and many members of these orders had joined up in early childhood. Likewise, many laypeople had gone to boarding schools as horrible as the boarding schools they ran. Therefore, it seemed natural to them to train kids the same way they had been trained.

  11. A child who didn’t behave submissively when being punished, or who didn’t cry out when being beaten, was seen as being defiant and vicious in many European and US cultures. This was to be corrected by increased punishment, because the child must submit for the good of his character. Obviously, adults who got their jollies from abuse were even more insistent on this point.

In many cases, Native American kids were taught by their parents and culture not to cry out when hurt, or show reaction on their faces to bad situations.

You can see how things could escalate from this kind of culture clash.

  1. All of these ideas were considered progressive, liberal, forward-thinking, scientific, benevolent, kindly, and good. (Not by everybody, but by a huge number of the people who ran government agencies, Church bureaucracies, and schools.) There were people who tried to do something about it, but it was a long process everywhere.

Btw, even kindergarten was originally introduced in order to train Prussian kids to speak Hochdeutsch the official Prussian way, instead of using their own dialects and Eastern European languages. But it was a gentler approach, and kids got to go home after school.

It’s a Canadian legal term. You guys have the melting pot - we don’t.

Here’s a list.

[Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada

List of First Nations](“”)

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