The U.S. Government Took Native American Kids from Their Homes Into a Network of Sexual Predators | #childpredator | #kidsaftey | #childsaftey

Apropos of RFK Jr.’s very strange use of the phrase “the ultimate sacrifice” in connection with Native Americans, The Washington Post brings us a deeply reported, ineffably sad piece of work about the long history of sexual abuse of Native children in so-called Indian boarding schools run by the Catholic Church in America. Just when you thought you had a handle on Holy Mother Church’s career as a conspiracy to commit child abuse, and as an international conspiracy to obstruct justice, a whole new chain of evidence rattles to life.

From 1819 to 1969, tens of thousands of children were sent to more than 500 boarding schools across the country, the majority run or funded by the U.S. government. Children were stripped of their names, their long hair was cut, and they were beaten for speaking their languages, leaving deep emotional scars on Native American families and communities. By 1900, 1 out of 5 Native American school-age children attended a boarding school. At least 80 of the schools were operated by the Catholic Church or its religious affiliates.

The Post investigation reveals a portrait of pervasive sexual abuse endured by Native American children at Catholic-run schools in remote regions of the Midwest and Pacific Northwest, including Alaska. At least 122 priests, sisters and brothers assigned to 22 boarding schools since the 1890s were later accused of sexually abusing Native American children under their care, The Post found. Most of the documented abuse occurred in the 1950s and 1960s and involved more than 1,000 children.

The stories are as gruesome as one might expect them to be. The children were virtual prisoners, hauled off sometimes hundreds of miles from their homes. They were systematically stripped of their ethnic and cultural identities, even of their actual identities. During the process, they were fed to a network of sexual predators. In the 1830s, fanciful tales of what happened to women behind convent walls prompted episodes of religious violence, including the burning of an Ursuline convent in Charlestown, near Boston. Most of these stories were the titillating semi-pornography of the time. This was the vicious reality.

The account of Katherine Mendez, who was sent to the school in 1966, didn’t become public until 2007, when her nephew, Ken Bear Chief, a paralegal, told his boss that his Aunt Kathy had been molested as a child at St. Mary’s.

Blaine Tamaki, a trial lawyer in Washington state who knew little about Indian boarding schools, interviewed Mendez, then in her early 50s. Mendez, who was from the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, told him that shortly after she arrived at the school at age 11, one of the senior Jesuit priests—John J. Morse—began to prey upon her. Mendez said Morse often ordered her to his office, sometimes to be disciplined. She said he insisted she sit on his lap, spanked her bare bottom and penetrated her with his fingers. He told her not to say a word about it if she ever wanted to go home again and see her mother, she said.

Mendez thought she was the only one. She wasn’t. The abuse of children at St. Mary’s spanned more than two decades: Starting in 1948 and for 26 consecutive years, priests or brothers molested children at the school, according to The Post’s analysis. This was the longest uninterrupted stretch of abuse documented at any of the 22 schools. It is unclear whether church officials were aware of the abuse at St. Mary’s at the time.

“The church wounded my spirit, took away my soul and robbed me of my childhood,” said Vargas, of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation in Washington. “It was the federal government that promoted the boarding school policy and the church was its arm. I blame them both.” Vargas said Morse began to abuse her at St. Mary’s Mission in 1968. He told her that if she refused, she would not go to heaven. Sometimes, she said, Morse locked her in a rat-infested cellar. Morse invited her and several girls to his office most Sunday nights, she said. He gave them hot cocoa, chocolate chip cookies or chocolate bars, and let them watch television. He would lean back in his recliner and place the girls one at a time on his lap, rubbing their backs until he ejaculated, Vargas said.

Talk about your holy terrors. Somehow the lessons from Matthew 14:19 got twisted around backward here. “Suffer the little children” isn’t supposed to mean make them suffer.

The Jesuits, the story reports, paid a whopping $166 million settlement in 2011 to their victims as part of bankruptcy proceedings for the Northwest province of the Society. The bankruptcy also opened the books on what the province knew about abuse in its Native boarding schools. Ultimately, this research produced more than a hundred other victims.

The crimes, criminal and otherwise, in the system of Native boarding schools continue to roil Canadian politics. Canada, unsurprisingly, has been way ahead of this country in making historical amends to its victims and their families. To her credit, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native member of a presidential cabinet, whose ancestors were victims of the boarding-school system, has done a bulldog’s work at playing catchup, especially in the area of discovering and excavating lost cemeteries in which the ultimate victims of the system were buried. Historical crimes never disappear. They burn in secrecy, like the underground blazes in wildfires, tearing through the roots of things until they find an outlet and explode to the surface, burning away the artifice that camouflages the inhumanity.

Charles P Pierce is the author of four books, most recently Idiot America, and has been a working journalist since 1976. He lives near Boston and has three children. 

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