6 Jun 2011

Nuns among worst perpetrators of horrific violence and sex abuse in Jesuit-run schools and missions on Indian reservations



The Missoulian  -    Montana    June 5, 2011

Anguish has never healed for Natives physically, sexually abused at St. Ignatius mission

By GWEN FLORIO of the Missoulian


Part One



ST. IGNATIUS - The small brick mission is a jewel, stunning in its setting at the foot of the Mission Mountains.

"I want to be here," says Garry "Bob" Salois, "the day an earthquake brings this place down."

Its 58 striking frescoes, painted by an Italian Jesuit who was self-taught, include a life-size image of St. George slaying a dragon with a hideous human face.

"The dragon's face," says Francis "Franny" Burke, "should be Mother Loyola."

The church has been a focal point of religious life in the Mission Valley since the 1830s, when the local Salish tribe sent repeated delegations to St. Louis, asking that the Jesuit "black robes" establish a mission here.

"People hate us belittling our town and our church," says Leland "Jimi" Hewankorn, "but they don't know what hell we went through."

Salois, Burke and Hewankorn are among some 500 people - nearly all of them Native American or Alaskan Native - who prevailed in a $166.1 million bankruptcy reorganization against the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus, better known as Jesuits.

Claimants reported abuse either by Jesuit priests or nuns under Jesuit supervision, starting in the 1950s at boarding schools and parishes on remote reservations and tiny, far-flung villages around the Northwest and Alaska. The Oregon Province covers Oregon, Montana, Washington, Idaho and Alaska.

The settlement, announced in March, is the largest against a Catholic religious order and one of the biggest involving abuse by Catholic clergy.

For the past several weeks, claims adjudicators have been verifying accusations. Last week, ballots went out to claimants, who have until June 30 to approve the reorganization plan.

In August or September, those victims - many of them approaching old age - should start receiving large cash settlements for the anguish inflicted upon them as children.

A half-century after the abuse began, Salois, Hewankorn and Burke say that anguish lingers.

"For over 50 years, those guys have messed up my head, the way that I think," said Salois. "It's like they stole my whole damn life."

******

The three men, now in their late 50s, said they still avoid the St. Ignatius mission church.

But recently they returned to tell their story, lingering uncomfortably outside before going in, pointing out where the dormitory and other mission buildings, now long gone, once stood.

"The only thing left is the church," said Burke.

"And," added Salois, "the bad memories."

They never wanted to go to the school. They didn't have a choice.

"My mom said they threatened to put her in jail if they didn't send me," Burke said.

They arrived speaking little English. They learned some words fast.

"Dirty."

"Pigs."

"Dumb Indians."

And to Salois, who is Salish-Cree and French - "a little, redheaded, chubby, good-looking half-breed," he described himself - "You aren't even a real Indian. You look like a white guy."

This, they said, from a woman who supposedly was "civilizing" them.

Mother Loyola was the Ursuline nun in charge of the boys' section of the boarding school.

"A big woman," Hewankorn recalled.

"German," said Burke. Salois' older brother, also at the school, theorized that she was a Nazi war criminal hiding within a nun's habit.

"We thought she was a man," Burke said. "We used to peek through the keyhole to see."

Later, said Salois, "we found out she wasn't. The hard way."

******

Most of the sexual abuse cases against the Catholic church involve priests.

Of nearly 3,500 accused Catholic religious leaders whose names have been released, only 82 - about 2 percent - are nuns, according to Bishop Accountability, a group that tracks church sexual abuse cases.

An extensive study by John Jay College of Criminal Justice for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, released last month, focuses solely on priests. (One of its conclusions, tying the incidence of abuse to more permissive social mores of the 1960s, has been widely criticized.)

"People don't believe females are capable of abusing, and they surely don't think these good nuns would abuse," said Steve Theisen, director of the Iowa chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP. As the group's name indicates, abuse by nuns is so little recognized that there's not even a support group for its victims - who include Theisen.

"It's really one of the last taboos to try to break," he said.

In the Northwest Jesuits case, the Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala law firm of Seattle crunched numbers of the accused and the allegations against them, and came up with a list of the Top 10 worst offenders.

St. Ignatius' Mother Loyola is No. 7 on a list that includes Father Augustine J. "Freddy" Feretti and Brother Rene "Charlie" Gallant, both of whom also served at the St. Ignatius mission.

"The focus has certainly been the priests, but the nuns play a real interesting role. ... We see a lot of complicity by the nuns in the priest abuse," said attorney Michael Pfau.

Sister Francis Xavier, the archivist at the Ursuline Centre in Great Falls, knew Mother Loyola personally and remembers her reputation as a "rather severe disciplinarian." But she dismissed as rumor the possibility that Mother Loyola strayed into sexual abuse. "She may have - we used to call it spanking. But fondling is something I find hard to believe," she said.

That's a common reaction to accusations of abuse by women, said Bryan Smith, an attorney with Tamaki Law in Yakima, Wash., which represents about 90 of the people in the Northwest Jesuit case. The Tamaki clients, who include Salois, Hewankorn and Burke, make up the largest group of those in the lower 48 states.

"It was shocking for me to hear" the allegations about Mother Loyola, said Smith, who took depositions from many of the claimants.

"It wasn't until I heard multiple accounts that were remarkably similar from people who didn't know each other that I started to realize, ‘This is real stuff that was happening.' "

*****

The accounts were similar and so were the victims, at least during the late 1950s and early 1960s in St. Ignatius.

"I think they looked everybody over and picked on the ones that didn't talk English," Burke said. "The ones who came from traditional families," added Salois.

The three fit the bill. Burke and Hewankorn spoke mostly Kootenai, Salois a mixture of Salish and Cree. Besides, they were boarding students. Unlike the "day scholars" who went back to their families at night, the boys were far from their homes on the reservation's northern border. (The boarding program closed in 1962.)

Their heads were shaved. Verbal abuse escalated to physical, meted out for supposed infractions - say, speaking their own language.

"We'd have to pull down our pants to our ankles and get hit with a 2-by-4," said Hewankorn. "And also hold out our hands, palms up, and get hit with a 2-by-4. I always wondered how they could be so mean."

Strict regimens forbade little kids from getting up in the middle of the night. If a boy wet his bed, said Salois, he would be forced to stand with the soaked sheets draped over him until they dried, then wash the sheets and stand again, ghostlike beneath them, until the clean sheets dried.

Separately, they ran away. When he was in second grade, Hewankorn made it to Elmo, more than 40 miles away, before police brought him back. Burke got as far as a barn, visible from the dorm, and realized he'd never make it home to Elmo. He sneaked back, but was found out, and his head shaven anew as punishment. Salois ran repeatedly. "I was always bald," he said.

Physical abuse turned sexual.

When the Rev. Joseph Balfe asked Burke to assist him with Mass, Burke went to the sacristy, only to be confronted with Balfe standing naked. During confession, Balfe asked Hewankorn what bed he slept in.

"They looked at us like we were animals. Like we were their playthings," said Burke.

They quickly learned to hide when Mother Loyola came around, looking for a boy to help a priest with "chores."

But at night, when she came into the dormitory, there was nowhere to go, they said.

"I'd see Mother Loyola go to different beds," Hewankorn said.

"She'd put her hand over your mouth," said Salois. "Grab you by the ear and take you back to her room" for sex.

Another nun, elderly, would coax boys onto her lap and force their heads to her bared chest.

"Sister John was a pervert, but she was senile," Salois said. "She tried to breast-feed you and say, ‘My poor baby.' But at least you'd get a hug and not get hurt."

They tried to tell, they said. As youngsters, they wrote a letter to the bishop in Helena, and even to the Pope.

"We complained about how we were being treated. ... We said, ‘Come and save us,' " Burke said.

"I guess that letter never made it."

******

The settlement could bring as much as a half-million dollars to some victims, depending upon the length and severity of the abuse.

So what, said Hewankorn. "All that money, they could give it all to me and it still wouldn't be enough for the abuse that I went through."

Money won't make up for his shattered life, his three marriages, he said. "I can't hold onto relationships," he said. He is immersed in "shame, shame."

Salois tried three times to kill himself, once before he was a teenager.

"I turned violent, into a drug addict and an alcoholic," said Salois, who has "L-O-V-E" tattooed on the four fingers of one hand and "H-A-T-E" on the other.

He said he got into the habit, for a while, of going into Catholic churches and waiting until Mass was over before confronting the priest.

"I'd yell at him, cuff him a couple of times. Ask them why they did it."

Burke likewise drank and drugged through years of his life. He said he's been sober 10 years now. He's only recently begun to discuss his childhood with his grown children. "They saw me cry," he said.

But until last month, the only times he'd been inside the St. Ignatius church since third grade involved mandatory events like wakes or funerals.

"My knees are shaking," he said. "It's really hard. You know, this is supposed to be a good place."

He paced past the murals, barely looking at them. He, like the others, turned his back on Catholicism as a little boy, and never looked back. None of his eight children is baptized.

"I feel like I'm lost," he said. "I don't know my heritage. I can't speak English very good, and I can't speak my own language."

Salois also refused to baptize his children and won't allow his grandchildren to be baptized. "It took me 40 years to separate the Catholic religion and belief in God," said Salois, who despite his palpable anger took off his cap when he entered St. Ignatius church. "I believe there's got to be a creator of all things. But if Jesus Christ and his bunch are a true religion, he's forsaken me a long time ago."

Hewankorn has worked to reclaim his tribal heritage, turning to traditional ways.

"I don't go to church no more," he said. "I confess to Him only. I don't confess to a human being."

The men said they're waiting for something more valuable than money.

"I got over being angry," Burke said. "But I want an apology. Not for myself, but the whole Indian race."

Salois hopes the Rev. Patrick Lee, the leader of the Oregon Province, comes to St. Ignatius to apologize in person - although at the thought, his anger flashed anew.

"I'd tell him, I don't accept your apologies. It's too damn late," he said. But a moment later, he added, "I'd go and see what kind of apology he gives. If it's a real one, I'll accept it. But if it's one of their old phonies, I'll spit in his face and go away."

And Hewankorn wants to ask the old, unanswerable question.

"Why? Why did you do that to us?"

Reporter Gwen Florio can be reached at 523-5268, gwen.florio @missoulian.com or CopsAndCourts.com.

This article was found at:


*********************************************************************

The Missoulian  -    Montana    June 5, 2011

Silence shrouds St. Ignatius Jesuit abuse case as settlement vote nears

By GWEN FLORIO of the Missoulian


Editor's note: Today, the Missoulian concludes a two-day look at the legacy of abuse at the Jesuit-run school and mission on the Flathead Indian Reservation.

ST. IGNATIUS - The recent $166.1 million settlement for people who were sexually abused in Jesuit-run schools and missions on Indian reservations and Alaskan villages made international headlines.

But here, where so much of the abuse occurred, the silence surrounding the case is as cold and deep as the stubbornly lingering snow on the Mission Mountains.

That's partly a measure of time: The settlement plan covers a half-century of abuse. What's news to the larger world is business as depressingly usual to people who've been living with the effects of that abuse for decades, said Jera Stewart, clinical supervisor and neuropsychologist for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.

It's partly a measure of legality: The 500 claimants involved in the settlement must vote to approve it and the votes won't be tallied until July. Until then, said the Rev. Andrew Maddock of the St. Ignatius Church, he can't address the issue specifically with parishioners. "I've just talked about (the fact) that we need to heal."

And it's partly an unfathomable measure of pain: "You're talking about layers of trauma that happened over generations," said Salish educator Julie Cajune.

Genocide. Dislocation. Cultural obliteration. Children kidnapped into boarding schools. And, as is now being widely revealed, the extensive sexual abuse of those children.

"That this kind of violence happened to children, the worst kind of violence ... ," Cajune said. "It's such a horrific thing that people don't want to talk about it."

***

The bankruptcy settlement against the Northwest Jesuits will - if approved - do everything possible to make sure that the 500-some claimants can get help for many years hence without having to talk publicly about it, even as the religious order takes public responsibility.

About $6.5 million of the $166.1 million paid by the Jesuits and their insurers would be set aside to fund future claims, as people continue to come forward about sexual assaults experienced decades ago, said Bryan Smith, an attorney with Tamaki Law, the Yakima, Wash., firm that represents the largest number of claimants in the Lower 48 states in the Northwest Jesuits case. That money would be available until it ran out.

Still, payments averaging about $300,000 could go to those whose claims already have been verified by adjudicators after the settlement was announced in late March, Smith said. Nearly all of the claimants are Native American or Alaskan Native.

"That significant sum of money is paid to acknowledge wrongdoing," said Blaine Tamaki. "They are apologizing for their abuse."

Francis "Franny" Burke, 58, of Elmo, is one of the people represented by Tamaki's firm.

"Speaking for all the Indian people involved with these priests, we would like an apology. That would be nice," said Burke. "But something that could really help the Indian people out is to help restore the culture and language."

As in other boarding schools around Indian Country, the last of which closed in 1968, students in the St. Ignatius school had their hair shorn and were punished if they spoke their own languages or practiced their traditions. The result was generations who feel, as Burke said, lost in an uneasy world between the two cultures.

The settlement doesn't address that issue. Perhaps it never could. But it does include several provisions designed to provide the accountability and apology many victims say they badly want.

Among them:

• For the next decade, the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus, better known as the Northwest Jesuits, must post on its website's home page the names of all its members verified as perpetrators.

• For the next two years, the website must provide a place for victims who want to tell their stories.

• The Rev. Patrick J. Lee, who heads the province, will send personally signed letters of apology to all the claimants, stating that the abuse wasn't their fault, and that the province takes responsibility.

• During the next five years, Lee will travel to Anchorage, Seattle, Spokane and other places for private conferences with people who were abused.

• The Northwest Jesuits cannot refer to those who were abused as "alleged" claimants, victims or survivors.

• And, Lee will post on the website, and place ads in regional publications including the Missoulian, "a statement of gratitude for the survivors of sexual abuse who have had the courage to speak about the sexual abuse they endured and continue to live with every day."

***

Along with "alleged," Cajune would prefer to get rid of the word "victims," too.

"I think it's important to see Indian people as actors and not victims," she said.

Take those who endured the abuse by Jesuit priests, as well as nuns who worked under their supervision, in Jesuit missions and schools on Indian reservations around the Northwest and in Alaskan Native villages. The Oregon Province covers Oregon, Montana, Washington, Idaho and Alaska.

"It's a very brave and courageous act of resistance for these people to come out and do this," Cajune said. "It's not going to be popular."

In addition to the general squeamishness regarding public discussion of sexual abuse, there's the fact that the St. Ignatius mission - home to some of the most egregious abusers - is also a revered institution for many in the community, said Stewart, who works for the tribal health program in St. Ignatius.

"The church is still a force that people use," said Stewart. After all, she said, only a few people among the mission's religious leaders were abusers.

Most, she said, "are healers. People go there all the time for confession and absolution and to get some help."

Indeed, Josephine Paul Quequesah, who is 74, said that while revelations about abuse at the boarding school her older sister attended surprised and saddened her, she remains a devout Catholic and volunteers at the church as a Eucharistic minister.

"All my children, my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren are baptized," said Quequesah, a member of the Salish-Pend d'Oreille Culture Committee, whose offices are near the church.

"I don't think they need to do it," she said of the lawsuits.

Leland "Jimi" Hewankorn, 59, said he heard similar remarks from friends and family members critical of his decision to join the legal action against the Northwest Jesuits.

And he knows people who also were abused, but who have kept silent.

"I'm speaking for a lot of people who are afraid to speak out," Hewankorn said.

***

The Northwest Jesuits' website - not its home page, but in the "contact" section - provides a confidential number for people to report sexual abuse by a Jesuit, or get information on counseling if they've suffered abuse.

In St. Ignatius, Stewart said that Tribal Health offers counseling to both people who have been abused and to abusers, although no program specifically addresses those involved in the Jesuit case. Publicity about that case can be helpful for people who've suffered in silence for years, believing themselves alone in their experience, she said.

"Even if they're not speaking out, they can experience healing vicariously," she said.

Dixie Trahan Brabender of Ronan, one of the first to publicly come forward in the case against the Northwest Jesuits, wanted to provide a safe place for such people.

The 56-year-old Ronan resident, who is not a trained counselor, started a support group in her home for other abuse survivors. But it fell apart after just a few meetings, she said.

"It's still hard to talk about it," she said. "They stole something from us. They stole our innocence from us."

She said she'd revive the group if people wanted.

And groups like SNAP - Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests - also offer support.

For all the considerable resources, financial and emotional, provided by the settlement, it lacks the one thing some survivors wish they'd seen: personal accountability by the priests and nuns who abused them.

But criminal charges in such cases are nearly impossible, said Smith of Tamaki Law, both because the statute of limitations has passed in many cases, and because most of the perpetrators have died.

For instance, the Rev. Augustine J. "Father Freddy" Feretti, named by victims in St. Ignatius and Idaho, died in 1982. Mother Loyola, an Ursuline nun who was a prefect at the boarding school in St. Ignatius, went from there to a mission in the Yukon before returning to the Ursuline Centre in Great Falls, where she died, said Sister Francis Xavier, the center's archivist. Both of Mother Loyola's legs were amputated before her death, said Sister Francis, who knew Mother Loyola.

"She had a very, very hard death, "she said. "She suffered a lot."

Cajune said that in Lame Deer, on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in southern Montana, elders speak of the people who survived the genocide as heroic. She suggested the same term might be applied to those taking the Jesuits to task about their abuse.

It won't undo the damage.

Most of the abusers got away.

And there will always be naysayers.

But the Northwest Jesuits can't act as though it never happened, because those who suffered fought back.

Now the world knows what was done to them.

"We stood up to some powerful people," Franny Burke said, "and I feel good about that."

Reporter Gwen Florio can be reached at 523-5268, gwen.florio@missoulian.com, or CopsAndCourts.com.

This article was found at:

http://missoulian.com/news/local/article_7b36eb20-8ffd-11e0-be4f-001cc4c002e0.html



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5 comments:

  1. Dark times with nuns of Mother Teresa: a memoir

    National Post - Charles Lewis

    There’s an episode in Mary Johnson’s An Unquenchable Thirst that seems to epitomize the painful years she spent in Mother Teresa’s religious order.

    It is just one of dozens of uncomfortable moments the former nun recalls as a member of the Roman Catholic Missionaries of Charity, but it exemplifies the degree to which she saw life around her as one of repression, repercussions and guilt — the things that drove her out of the order in 1997.

    At one of the order’s homes in Rome, a supervisor, Sister Dolorosa, began shouting in her sleep, “I need a man! I need a man!”

    The sister was faithful to her vows, but the evidence of her subconscious desire sent shock waves through the other nuns.

    Sister Dolorosa’s words “reverberated in my brain, my gut, my bones,” Ms. Johnson writes.

    One sister said, “It’s only normal. We are all human.”

    “But she’s our mistress,” said another. “We’re supposed to learn from her.”

    When Sister Dolorosa found out what she had said, she hid in shame from the others.

    Ms. Johnson, who was in Toronto this week to promote An Unquenchable Thirst, said no one reading her book should think life in the Missionaries of Charity was typical of that in other women’s religious orders.

    Other orders, she said, allow their members to have some semblance of a normal life: to engage with friends outside; to keep up with current events; and to stay in close contact with their families.

    “We weren’t even allowed to be friends with each other,” she said. “All our contacts were cut off.”
    ...

    Still, reading it is hard to fathom why anyone who would have lasted 20 years. But Ms. Johnson explained the conviction you have been called by God to do something is far stronger than anything that could be imagined in a secular pursuit.

    “We’d always been told you are here because God has called you, so the worst thing you could do is leave.”

    During her time with the sisters she broke her vows with chastity with another nun and later with a priest. She believes now if the order allowed more humane relationships she would never have broken her vows.

    “I think if I hadn’t been that lonely it would have been a whole lot easier to keep my vows. I’m not making excuses. I know I violated my vows and that was something very complicated for me and that I felt guilty about for a very long time. But at the same time I found myself unable to resist having a relationship.”

    The book tells of superiors who became drunk with power, whose normal mode of communication was to shout and invent irrational accusations against those below them.

    Because arguing back was considered a sin against humility, even the most irrational charges could not be countered properly for fear of appearing to be proud or arrogant. Self-flagellation with a rope or a chain was used as a means to conquer pride.

    “As I lived it out, I realized that sort of radical draw also brought these drawbacks where people didn’t have any way of pursuing any form of pleasure or relaxation,” she said.

    “The food was bad, living conditions were difficult, and we didn’t mind that, because we had signed up for that. But what happens is some of the people get their only pleasure in the exercise of power. And this part of what happened in the Missionaries of Charity.”

    read full article at:

    http://life.nationalpost.com/2011/09/23/dark-times-with-nuns-of-mother-teresa-a-memoir/

    ReplyDelete
  2. Actual words of American Indian boarding school founder, students brought to life in play

    Retired College of St. Scholastica American Indian Studies instructor Carl Gawboy has written a play about the American Indian boarding school experience.

    by: Budgeteer News Staff, Duluth Budgeteer News February 17, 2012

    Retired College of St. Scholastica American Indian Studies instructor Carl Gawboy has written a play about the American Indian boarding school experience. It is based on his graduate study of the historical records of boarding schools for American Indians from the 1880s to the 1940s.

    Called “The Great Hurt: Historical Accounts of American Indian Boarding Schools” the play has been performed at tribal and community colleges, theaters and the National Indian Child Welfare Conference. A frequent comment from audience members is, “I didn’t know that anything like that happened in America.”

    The Twin Ports premier performance of the play took place in January at the College of St. Scholastica. An estimated 450 to 500 people attended the event.

    Gawboy produced a dramatic reading from his research materials in order to bring the play to a wider audience. The readers’ theatre script comes from actual testimonies by Indians and staff of the boarding schools.

    After writing the script for the play in 1972, Gawboy could not find anyone interested in helping to produce it. “The Great Hurt” sat in his desk drawer until he was asked recently if he had any material on the historical trauma that American Indians suffered in boarding schools. Audiences are now ready for his play.

    Tad Johnson, an enrolled member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, Bois Forte Band, is head of the American Indian Studies Department at UMD. He saw the performance. He said, “I thought it was very moving and very powerful. It used actual words of Capt. Pratt, who founded Carlisle School, and the children. It was very stirring.” He said the use of actual photos “had a big impact on me and a lot of the people in the audience.” Johnson’s maternal grandparents attended boarding schools. “People lost parenting skills and lost their language,” he said. “I knew all that, but hearing the actual words was moving.”

    The play is scheduled to be shown at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul on March 9.

    http://www.duluthnewstribune.com/event/article/id/223240/group/Budgeteer/

    ReplyDelete
  3. Native American Leader Dennis Banks on the Overlooked Tragedy of Nation’s Indian Boarding Schools

    Democracy Now, October 8, 2012

    TRANSCRIPT:

    AMY GOODMAN: We’re on the road in Durango, Colorado, at Fort Lewis College, which graduates more Native Americans than any four-year college in the United States. I’m Amy Goodman. But we’re going now to New York, where Dennis Banks is, the legendary Native American activist from the Ojibwa Tribe. In 1968, he co-founded the American Indian Movement. A year later, he took part in the occupation of Alcatraz Island in California. In 1972, he assisted in AIM’s Trail of Broken Treaties, a caravan of numerous activist groups across the United States to Washington, D.C., to call attention to the plight of Native Americans. That same year, AIM took over the Bureau of Indian Affairs building in Washington, D.C. In early 1973, the American Indian Movement took over and occupied Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation for 71 days. Earlier this year, he led a cross-country walk from Alcatraz to Washington calling for the release of imprisoned Native American activist Leonard Peltier, who’s been held for 35 years.

    Dennis Banks joins us in New York. This weekend, he served as a jurist in the Russell Tribunal on Palestine. We’ll get to that in a moment, but as we broadcast today on the federal holiday known as Columbus Day, that others call Indigenous Peoples Day, Dennis Banks, can you share your experience as a Native American in this country?

    DENNIS BANKS: Well, first of all, I’ve been watching your program this morning, and—with these young people from the college, and I want to say that I feel great that—you know, that the young people are really getting up there and speaking. And it feels like now I—you know, I’m almost 80 years old—I can sit back and retire, you know, and say, "Look, our young people are taking over." And that’s great. That’s what I’d like to see. I’m very impressed with the students you had on there this morning.

    But I was going to say, are we still talking about Columbus Day? You know, it’s been so—what, it’s been four years since I talked to you, Amy. This is, you know, when the Longest Walk 2 arrived in Washington, D.C. And now we’re talking about—we should be talking more—I don’t want to talk about Columbus, but I will talk about this day. In South Dakota, which I thought would be the last one to adopt a day like this as a Native American day, but they have moved forward, and they’ve proclaimed this day as Native American Day. And it is a day for observation, celebration and, you know, looking at the contributions that native people have made, not only in South Dakota, but in Minnesota and all around Indian country. And that’s what this day should be about.

    continued in next comment...

    ReplyDelete
  4. continued from previous comment...

    And I don’t want to reflect about, you know, the lost explorer. You know, they’ve got towns named after him, like Custer, South Dakota, is named after Custer, a man who was, you know, bent on killing native people. But people honor those kind of renegades and those kind of rogues. So, I want to look at the more positive things, and that’s—and it’s good. I’m glad that you’re carrying this day, though—I really am—and being at Fort Lewis. I’ve spoke there previously two or three times.

    AMY GOODMAN: Dennis Banks, for people who are not familiar with these boarding schools that Native Americans were put into over the years, can you describe what your experience was? Where did you live? Where were you sent? What happened to you in these schools growing up?

    DENNIS BANKS: I was in the boarding schools when punishment was very severe if you ran away. This was during the early ’40s. I was taken to a boarding school when I was four years old, and taken away from my mother and my father, my grandparents, who I stayed with most of the time, and just abruptly taken away and then put into the boarding school, 300 miles away from our home. And, you know, the beatings began immediately, the—almost the de-Indianizing program. It was a terrible experience that the American government was experimenting with. And that was trying to destroy the culture and the person, destroy the Indian-ness in him and save the human being, save the—kill an Indian, save the man. That was, you know, the description of what this policy is about, about trying to—

    AMY GOODMAN: Now, the government ran the schools?

    DENNIS BANKS: The U.S. government paid—of course, they ran a lot of the schools themselves, but they also delegated a lot of it to the Christians, Christian communities. The Catholics had some. The Episcopalians had some. The Lutherans had some. Methodists had some. And so, it was like a complicit—there was complicity between the churches and the state in taking care of Indian problem, solving the Indian problem, and trying to change who we were.

    AMY GOODMAN: Dennis, where had—where had you lived? Where had you lived, and where were you brought to school?

    DENNIS BANKS: I lived on the federal—or, on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation, where I was born, in northern Minnesota. And I was taken to a boarding school 300 miles away to the south, southernmost part of Minnesota, the southwestern part, called Pipestone Indian School. I stayed there three years—six years—

    AMY GOODMAN: And how—

    DENNIS BANKS: Go ahead.

    AMY GOODMAN: How did you communicate with your family? And how often did you get to see them? Did you get to talk to them?

    DENNIS BANKS: Never. Never. You know, they cut off all communication with your parents, and a lot of letters, which I found later in—I stayed there for six years without communicating to—with my parents at all. And finally, they let us go home for six years. Of course, we couldn’t speak the language. We could speak only English and—what these young people were talking about.

    But there was severe punishment for running away from that kind of system. I ran away. I kept running away. Almost once a week, I’d run away from those schools. They’d catch me. They’d bring me back to the school, beat me. And it was—it was terrible. I mean, there was other kinds of punishment that we went through, as well. And it was—now that, it was a—that kind of experience, I still remember what it is like today. And I have a friend who has been—who had been my friend for over 70 years now, and we remember those days. There were—we stuck together. A lot of people stuck together. Just being together, that’s what saved a lot of us from terrible consequences of speaking. But eventually, they—you know, they kept beating me down, and I kept—so I started learning English, and I started learning who the presidents were. I started learning all that stuff.

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    And then they let me go home for 30 days. Six years. And I asked my mother, I said, "Why didn’t you write to me?" And she—you know, and she says, "I did." But I never—I never questioned beyond that. And then there was—they sent me to another boarding school in North Dakota, another 200 miles away. I was there for three years. And then, after that, same thing: no—only English, you know, corporal punishment. And then I went home for another 30 days, asked my mother, "Why is it you didn’t write to me again?" She says, "I did, and I did." Then they sent me to another boarding school in South Dakota further away, so another 400 miles. I kept running away from these schools. And I finally ran away from the last one, and I finally made it home.

    And so, I wanted to say, Amy, that this not only happened to people in North Dakota and South Dakota and Minnesota, but all across the country, thousands upon thousands of young students, Native students, were taken from their homes, and some were forcibly taken, some because of economic times allowed that to happen, but it was always taking them away from the parent, separate them from the parents for long periods of time, and which they did with me. And all of a sudden, I lost my family relationship with my mother. I lost that feeling with my mother, because I thought she abandoned me.

    And it wasn’t ’til almost just three years ago when my daughter was—they were doing a documentary on Dennis Banks, and they found—they went to—in the federal depository records in Kansas City. And she called me, and she says, "Dad, we found" — "Dad," she said, "we found your—we found your school records." And I said, "Bring them back." So she brought them back, and I started looking at them. And she says, "Dad, we also found something else." She handed me a shoebox. And I opened up the shoebox, and those were letters, letters from my mother. And I started opening them up, and I started reading them. And in the second one, there was a letter to the superintendent of the school that said, "Here is $5. Please send my children—my son back home to me."

    And I couldn’t finish reading these letters, because I was just tearing up and—so I went to the grave site. My mother had passed away. When she did pass away, I went to bury her, but there was no emotions with me. And then, going there this time with the letters—and I was reading the letters. I had a chair; I was sitting right by her grave, and I started reading these letters. And I knew that she loved me then. I mean, even now, even at this moment, I feel that, man, it’s a hard—it’s a hard experience to tell people. But I tell them anyway. I tell what happened, because it was a terrible, terrible experience. But it failed, failed miserably. I mean, but even today, I mean, I know some of the language. I don’t know—I don’t know all the language. I know a lot of songs, which came back to me. But the language, it seems like you start—you want to say something, and then you remember the beatings and stuff like that. And so—but it was terrible.

    http://www.democracynow.org/2012/10/8/native_american_leader_dennis_banks_on

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