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Senator, members of indigenous communities react to Catholic Church’s apology for role in Indian boarding schools

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU/Gray News) – The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops recently issued an official apology to Native Americans for the church’s involvement in Indian boarding schools and the trauma caused to the children who attended them.

“Unfortunately, many indigenous Catholics have felt a sense of abandonment in their relationship with Church leaders due to a lack of understanding of their unique cultural needs,” the document reads in part. “We apologize for our failure to nurture, strengthen, honor, recognize and value those entrusted to our pastoral care.”

On Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, along with a member of the Alaska Native Heritage Center, said the Catholic Church’s apology is a good first step, but more may be needed.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, there were more than 520 government-funded Indian boarding schools whose stated purpose was “Kill the Indian, Save the Man,” according to the National Boarding School Healing Coalition of National America.

Between 1860 and 1960, hundreds of thousands of Native American children attended these schools, which were run by the federal government and the Christian, Protestant, and Catholic churches.

A “first-of-its-kind federal study” of Native American boarding schools has identified more than 500 student deaths at the boarding facilities, but that number is expected to rise as research continues. the Associated Press reported.

Ben Jacuk of the Alaska Native Heritage Center said his grandfather attended boarding school in India and doesn’t like to talk about what he experienced at school.

“It’s a very common thing because there’s that fear of passing things on to the next generation,” Jacuk said.

In Indian boarding schools, indigenous children were also forced to assimilate their traditional languages, clothing and customs, Jacuk said.

“Indian children were forcibly abducted by government agents, sent to schools hundreds of miles away, and beaten, starved or otherwise abused when they spoke their native languages,” said the National Coalition for Native American Healing.

Taking this into context, he said he appreciated the apology, but said “repentance in action” was the next step – “giving land back to these communities that was taken for things like resource extraction throughout the entire boarding school era “. Jacuk said.

Murkowski commended the Catholic Church for issuing an official apology.

“While it may not be the end and all, in terms of how those who have suffered greatly over the years, it is the beginning of a path to healing,” she said.

Regarding this healing, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee is working to advance legislation that would provide for a truth and healing commission on Indian residential schools to “address some of the abuses and some of the wrongs that have historically been righted to the natives. peoples,” Murkowski said.

She did not go into detail about whether compensation would be considered by the committee, but Jacuk said she agreed with the senator that healing is needed. At the Native Heritage Center, he is developing a research project on Alaskan Indian boarding schools.

“Something my grandfather always said is the only way you can know what healing looks like — and ultimately heal yourself — is to know what you need healing from,” Jacuk said.

In opposition to the apology, Lauren Peters, who is an enrolled member of the Saint Paul Island Aleut community, said in an email that her first reaction was that the language in the apology was too soft and that “there is no talk of restitution. “