FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Mike Jordan Laskey
Director for Communications, Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States
RELIGIOUS GROUPS WHO OPERATED INDIAN BOARDING SCHOOLS ENDORSE BILL TO ESTABLISH A TRUTH AND HEALING COMMISSION
Seven religious congregations and denominations that operated boarding schools for Native students have endorsed the newly announced Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies Act. Introduced to Congress on September 30 by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Rep. Tom Cole and Rep. Sharice Davids, the bill, if passed, would establish the first formal Commission in the U.S. to investigate the history of Indigenous boarding schools.
In a joint statement, the co-signers—the Jesuit Conference Office of Justice and Ecology, the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Franciscan Action Network, the Friends Committee on National Legislation, the Office of Race Relations of the Christian Reformed Church of North America, and the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church—urged all members of Congress to support the bill.
“Having run several boarding schools for American Indian and Alaska Native students, the Jesuits would welcome the opportunity to work with a federal Commission to shine the light of truth on this part of our history,” said Fr. Ted Penton, SJ, secretary of the Jesuit Conference Office of Justice and Ecology. “We are greatly encouraged by the introduction of this bill and ask all members of Congress to support it.”
Starting in the 1860s, the federal Indian Boarding School Policy aimed to assimilate Indigenous peoples into white American culture. Some alumni of these schools are grateful for the education they received, but many see the schools as a place where they were robbed of their Native identity. The federal government compelled attendance at boarding schools where students were prohibited from speaking their language or practicing their culture. An estimated 100,000 children attended these schools — many of which were run by Catholic religious orders, including the Jesuits, and by other Christian denominations.
“In recognition that this policy was morally wrong and contrary to the teachings of our own faith, we are now beginning the journey of finding and facing our history with respect to the boarding schools,” the joint statement explains. “Given the scale of the task and the federal government’s own central role, a federal Commission is needed.”
The statement urges Congress to create a Commission that, in partnership and consultation with Tribal communities, will make recommendations for addressing the historic and present-day harms of the Indian Boarding School Policy.
The Office of Justice and Ecology’s endorsement affirms previous commitments to investigate the Jesuits’ involvement in Indigenous boarding schools. Last month, the Jesuit Provincials of Canada and the United States expressed sorrow for their role in assimilation policies in both the U.S. and Canada. In a press release, they affirmed their commitment to examining the history of Jesuit-run boarding schools through archival research and partnership with Indigenous communities.