June 30, 2021 Editor

The Catholic Church must come clean—completely—about what it did to Native Americans

June 30, 2021

photo above: A young woman takes part in a rally in Toronto June 6, 2021, after the remains of 215 children were on the grounds of the Kamloops Indian Residential School in May. For years Indigenous people in Canada have wanted an apology from the pope for the church’s role in abuse at Catholic-run residential schools. (CNS photo/Chris Helgren, Reuters)

WN: Amen to the article highlighted below! But as a good Jesuit-trained friend points out:

Would we not do well to reflect on the need for all of the people of Canada, and indeed all of the citizens of the British Empire, to “come clean…about what (we have done) to Native Americans?” We Catholics are guilty, but does the rest of Canada benefit ultimately from the denial of their own complicity?

Did I as  a Catholic design the residential school system, and did I (and my spiritual, ancestors) inspire the racism which was at its root? Did I as a Roman Catholic implement and sustain the system, amidst the protestations of other Canadian Christians?

Please know that none of this minimizes my own shame and grieving on behalf of the part which my religious community played in all of this.

Yes to all in the missive from him. Yes, that we non-aboriginals living downstream from all these events, to this very moment, are beneficiaries, every last one of us raised with ill-gotten privilege. Yes, that we settler Canadians need collectively to atone. Yes, that we other religious groups created no outcry throughout this genocidal horror. Yes, that we settler Canadians cannot celebrate “Canada” with a clear conscience–ever (again)!

And of course all the above goes for settler Americans, Australians, New Zealanders, and European colonizers acting out over centuries the genocidal Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius claims etc. Yes, this all was/is full-throttle Canadian genocide. And to click on the last highlighted, one learns that such genocide has tentacles throughout so many Canadian social systems and laws, from adoption, to health care, to forced sterilization, etc., etc.–to this day!

As Pogo said: We have seen the enemy and he is us!

See too: U.S. bishops respond to Interior Department investigation of Native American boarding schools.

And again: Opinion: The public needs more answers on the children lost to Native American boarding schools. In it we find:

The discovery of the children’s remains in Canada caused Ms. Haaland to break down in tears, she wrote in a Post opinion piece that recounted the experiences of her own family. Her great-grandfather was sent to the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, whose founder famously coined the phrase “Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.” At 8 years old, her grandmother was sent away and for five years was separated from her family and forced into menial labor. Imagine. Imagine at 8 being sent hundreds of miles away from home. Imagine being prohibited from speaking your native language or communicating with your family. Imagine, as was often the horrifying case, being starved, beaten or otherwise abused. And imagine the pain of parents whose children never came home and who never got an answer.


Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission has helped all Canadians and First Nations communities grapple with the sorrowful realities of their nation’s colonial past, particularly the gruesome legacy of its residential schools for Indigenous children. Those schools, many administered by Catholic religious orders and intended to be engines of assimilation, became centers of despair and brutality.

The recent discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves at two schools, and the likelihood that thousands more will be found at other residential school sites, have added to the anguish. But at least in Canada, a foundation for healing is being laid by the government-sponsored truth and reconciliation commission.

No similar process has started in the United States, though many of the same outrages likely occurred on this side of the border, in the system of more than 350 Native American boarding schools in the 19th century that were the model for the Canadian network. And just as in Canada, the Catholic Church had a significant role in the administration of this “schooling,” which stripped Native American children of their languages and cultures.

Beginning in 1819 and continuing through 1969, the U.S. government provided the resources and logistical support for the schools, and religious groups, including the Catholic Church, were among the willing recipients. According to the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, by 1926 there were 357 schools in 30 states with more than 60,000 children. Catholic religious orders here in the United States administered 84 of the schools. The Society of Jesus managed four of them.

The Department of Interior is for the first time in U.S. history being led by a Native American. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland has ordered an investigation into the history of these schools and a search for graves of children who may have perished at them.

Announcing the initiative, Ms. Haaland said she hoped it would “shed light on the unspoken traumas of the past.”

“I know that this process will be long and difficult,” she said. “I know that this process will be painful. It won’t undo the heartbreak and loss that so many of us feel. But only by acknowledging the past can we work toward a future that we’re all proud to embrace.”

It will be difficult after so long to determine the cause of death for many of the children that will be found in such graves. Many of the deceased will surely be found to have perished because of diseases like tuberculosis, which likewise claimed many lives among the school children at residential schools in Canada. But identifying TB and other forms of “natural” mortality among these schoolchildren will not tell the full story.

Please click on: Covered-Up Church Ghosts in the Closet

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Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.