OK Catholic groups explore the history and legacy of residential schools

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A Native American woman stood in front of a gathered group after Sunday Mass at a small Catholic church in Pottawatomie County recently.

How would they feel if they were forbidden to pray the Rosary or the Ave Maria, she asked. What if they were forbidden to make the sign of the cross?

Amy Warne of Oklahoma City said most Catholics would mourn the loss of these spiritual traditions of Catholicism, just as many young indigenous people mourned the banning of their original religion, language and other customs when they attended. boarding schools in Oklahoma between 1880 and 1965.

Warne spoke at a “listening session” at Sacred Heart Church in Konawa run by the American Indian Catholic Outreach of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City.

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The sessions are part of the Oklahoma Catholic Native Schools Project launched by the Archdiocese and Diocese of Tulsa in the fall of 2021. The project focuses on Catholic boarding schools for Native Americans that operated from 1880 to 1965 in the ‘State.

According to the archdiocese, 11 Catholic boarding schools for Native Americans existed in Oklahoma at that time. The first opened in Konawa in 1880 and closed in 1926. The last boarding school, St. Patrick’s in Anadarko, closed in 1965. They were all overseen by various Catholic religious orders.

The project came on the heels of a toll that began in Canada after the discovery in May 2021 of 215 unmarked graves of Indigenous children by Canada’s Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc First Nation at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia.

“In reflecting on the Canadian experience, we wanted to better understand the history, educational value and experiences of Indigenous students at Catholic boarding schools in Oklahoma,” said Michael Scaperlanda, Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City.

In the United States, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, a member of the Pueblo Laguna tribe, has called for a comprehensive review of the legacy of federal boarding schools.

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St. Patrick's Catholic Mission and School, established in 1889 in Anadarko, Oklahoma.

Learn from the past

According to a U.S. Department of the Interior list provided by the Archdiocese, the 11 Native American Catholic boarding schools in Oklahoma and their specific locations included: St. Patrick’s, Anadarko; Saint Agnes, Antlers; St. Agnes Academy, Ardmore; St. Joseph’s Academy, Chickasha; St. John’s, Hominy Creek; Nazareth Institute, Muskogee; St. Louis Girls’ Boarding School, Pawhuska; St. Elizabeth’s Boarding School, Purcell; St. Mary’s Mission School, Quapaw; and St. Benedict’s Boys’ Industrial School and St. Mary’s Academy, both in Sacred Heart, Konawa.

“It is important that we learn about and understand the experiences of Native American children and their families at Catholic boarding schools in Oklahoma so that we can make better and more informed decisions in the future,” said Reverend Paul S. Coakley, Archbishop of Oklahoma City. in a report. “We will continue to build a culture of inclusion, healing and understanding related to Native American Catholics in our state.”

Scaperlanda said that under the new Oklahoma Catholic Native Schools project, Catholic leaders will collect oral histories of former students and their descendants, study documentation of Catholic Indian boarding schools from parishes, religious orders , tribes, US Department of the Interior and other reliable sources. Information gathered through documents and oral histories will be compiled into a report.

Michel Scaperlanda

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Scaperlanda said Catholic organizations in Oklahoma will also work with Marquette University in Milwaukee, which holds the records of the Office of Catholic Indian Missions. He said this work will include collaboration with Professor Marquette Bryan Rindfleisch, who specializes in Native American history and studies. Oral histories and research will be coordinated locally by university researchers.

The good the bad and the ugly

The chancellor said the project would not shy away from the negative aspects of boarding schools.

“Whatever we find out, we want to be transparent,” he said. “I’m sure there’s good, I’m sure there’s bad and I’m sure there’s ugly.”

Ultimately, Scaperlanda said church leaders hoped the project would bring something positive.

“We hope that with this, especially with anything that is bad or ugly, that we want to engage in the process of reconciliation, of healing, he said. “We are just delighted to be engaged in this process.”

In a statement, Bishop David A. Konderla, Bishop of the Diocese of Tulsa, shared similar comments.

“It is by understanding the past that we are able to improve and build on good ideas in the present and, if necessary, repair past failures,” he said.

The conversation about some of the dark events of those residential schools of yesteryear resurfaced during the January listening session at Sacred Heart.

The sessions, which began in October 2021, were envisioned as a time for Native Americans to discuss boarding schools and their heritage with a Catholic deacon and his wife.

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Deacon Roy Callison, a member of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, had an idea, and he and his wife, Susan, a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, led the sessions through the office of the ‘American Indian Catholic Outreach. In addition to Konawa, sessions were held in Shawnee, Anadarko, Pawhuska and Fairfax.

Encourage cooperation

Coakley, head of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and chair of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Homeland Justice and Human Development, joined Bishop James S. Wall, of Gallup, New Mexico , conference chairman of the Catholic Episcopal Subcommittee on Native American Affairs. , sending a letter to bishops across the country, encouraging them to cooperate with the federal government’s investigation into the history of federal boarding schools for native people.

Coakley and Wall asked other bishops to provide records and any information requested by the federal government. The two religious leaders also encouraged the Bishops to “consider reaching out to tribal leaders and start, if you have not already done so, a dialogue about the schools that were historically in your areas.”

Coakley and Wall said some of the federal schools were operated by religious groups affiliated with the Catholic Church and Protestant denominations.

They noted that some of the schools were organized by “famous missionaries and saints.”

St. Katharine Drexel is shown at the St. Louis Boarding School for Girls in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, in this 1942 photo.

According to the Oklahoma Encyclopedia of History and Culture, early Catholic educational programs for Native Americans in present-day Oklahoma were partly funded by Katharine Drexel, a nun from a wealthy family who used her money to support projects educational.

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Scaperlanda said Drexel, who was recognized as a Catholic saint in 2000, was well known for her efforts to educate African Americans and Native Americans.

“However, there are many accounts, publicly reported with evidence, that the experience of many in these schools has been very bad, even disastrous,” the two bishops wrote.

In the fall of 2021, another Oklahoma faith group made a similar observation as it sought to confront the legacy of Native American boarding schools.

The Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference of the United Methodist Church held a prayer vigil at a church near Okemah on September 30, 2021, to honor Native American children who attended residential schools in Oklahoma. The event was held in conjunction with the United States National Day of Remembrance of Indian Residential Schools and the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation which is dedicated in Canada to survivors of Indian Residential Schools.

The General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist denomination and several other United Methodist entities have condemned the church’s sponsorship of “abusive” US Indian boarding schools and called for remembrance of victims and survivors.

The religious group said that while they were licensed and primarily funded by the government, some of these schools were also sponsored or run by religious organizations, including several with Methodist affiliations.

To learn more

Visit https://archokc.org/oknativeschoolsproject to learn more about the Oklahoma Catholic Native Schools Project. To participate in the project or to share an experience from a Catholic residential school in Oklahoma, email [email protected]

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