Bishops apologize for traumas of Indian boarding schools

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a formal apology Friday for the church’s role in the mistreatment and trauma experienced by Native Americans in the United States, notably in church-operating boarding schools that sought to force the assimilation of Native children into American culture.

Starting in the 19th century, hundreds of thousands of Native children were removed from their families and sent to the schools, where they often faced abuse, neglect and hard labor. Of the more than 500 Native boarding schools set up across the country, most with federal involvement or support, 87 were Catholic-run, according to a document from the research group Catholic Truth and Healing.


“The family systems of many Indigenous Peoples never fully recovered from these tragedies, which often led to broken homes harmed by addiction, domestic abuse, abandonment, and neglect,” the bishops wrote in a 56-page document issued Friday called a pastoral framework.

“The Church recognizes that it has played a part in traumas experienced by Native children.”

More broadly, the document says about the mistreatment of Native Americans, “We apologize for the failure to nurture, strengthen, honor, recognize, and appreciate those entrusted to our pastoral care.”

Ruth Buffalo, president of the National Native Boarding School Healing Coalition, who attended a Catholic boarding school in North Dakota in her preteen years, said that the apology felt “like a good first step,” but she was disappointed that the document did not mention impacts such as sexual abuse or the number of children who never returned home.

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