US Government Investigates Abuse in Indigenous Schools, SNAP Calls for Federal Legislation to Follow
(For Immediate Release May 11, 2022)
For the first time, the United States government is quantifying and reporting on the deaths of indigenous children that occurred in government-run or supported boarding schools. As advocates for survivors of clergy abuse, we hope that the government will look into how many children were abused and killed in schools run by institutions like the catholic church, a human rights disaster that has been widely reported to have occurred in Canada and that we can only assume happened in the United States as well.
According to early reports, the report by the U.S. Department of the Interior has identified at least 400 culpable schools and 50 gravesites, numbers that are shocking and assuredly, only the tip of the iceberg. There are myriad cases that have already been reported of abusive clergy being transferred to indigenous communities and we can only assume that this report will bring more to the fore. This fact is especially troubling when one realizes that religious institutions were paid to put indigenous children into boarding schools. In this way, the church was therefore compensated for saddling these children with a lifetime of trauma recovery.
An egregious example is that of Fr. James Poole, a Jesuit brother who began his career in Alaska. The Jesuit province became aware of Poole’s serial abuse of native girls in the 1960s, but rather than remove him from his position and prevent future cases of abuse, the order instead transferred him to a post in Portland, OR. Predictably, Poole later abused children there as well. When the Diocese of Fairbanks entered bankruptcy, it was revealed that at least 19 allegations had been made against Poole. We can only wonder how many other men like Poole operated in indigenous communities throughout the country without any kind of reasonable oversight.
Indigenous survivors have been calling for attention to the issue for years, and in recent times, the tide has begun to turn. But all the same, far too many people who were abused in boarding schools have been unable to access justice or healing thanks to the skillful use of bankruptcy protection and statutes of limitation in states across the country. For example, in South Dakota, a small group of indigenous women has been appealing to their state legislature to amend their statute of limitations for a decade so that native survivors can have their day in court. For a decade, those pleas have been ignored.
With that in mind, while we are grateful that a report on these crimes is being issued, we feel that without immediate action, such a report is only a half-measure. Like in Canada, we believe that the United States should open its own federal investigation into cases of sexual abuse perpetrated by clergy in schools and other institutions funded by the American taxpayer. Critically, such an investigation should result in new federal legislation that would allow survivors and their families an opportunity for their day in court so they can confront their abusers and enablers.
This report is but the first step in the right direction. We hope that the U.S. government will continue to walk the path toward, healing, prevention, and justice.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)