Monday, June 10, 2024

Report reveals sexual abuse of Native American children at Catholic boarding schools

Native American children who were forcibly taken from their families by the US government and placed in Catholic boarding schools were raped or molested by Catholic priests and religious community members for decades, a report revealed Wednesday. 

In putting together its investigative report, The Washington Post interviewed more than two dozen survivors of Indian boarding schools who were sexually and physically abused as children and reviewed thousands of pages of court documents, sworn depositions, lawsuits, diaries of priests and sisters, correspondence between priests and sexual abuse claim forms.

It also reviewed thousands of boarding school documents in the National Archives.

From 1819 to 1969, tens of thousands of children were sent to over 500 boarding schools across the US, the majority being run or funded by the US government, and 80 of these schools were operated by the Catholic Church or its religious affiliates, according to the report.

The schools were established as part of the Indian Civilization Act of 1819 and had a profound and lasting impact on Native American families, leading to significant trauma, loss of culture and language, physical illness and even death among the children who were forced to attend.

According to The Post’s analysis and court records, at least 19 Catholic priests, brothers and sisters were accused of sexually abusing 21 Native American children at the St. Paul Mission and Boarding School in Montana, mainly during the 1950s and 1960s.

The investigation revealed that at least 122 priests, sisters and brothers assigned to 22 boarding schools since the 1890s later faced accusations of sexually abusing Native American children under their care. Most of these incidents took place in the 1950s and 1960s and involved more than 1,000 children.

Among the victims interviewed in the report were Clarita Vargas, 64, who was 8 years old when she was forced to live at St. Mary’s Mission, a Catholic-run Indian boarding school in Omak, Washington.

“It haunted me my entire life,” said Vargas, who as reportedly “groped and fondled” by a priest who took her and another girl to his office to watch a TV movie.

Jay, 70, a member of the Assiniboine and Gros Ventre tribes and identified only by his first name, was sent to the St. Paul Mission and Boarding School in Hays, Mont. when he was 11.

He said a Jesuit brother raped him in a shack next to a pine grove where the priests cut down Christmas trees.

“He said if I ever told anybody that I would go to hell,” he added.