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Oklahoma Catholic Native Schools Project seeks boarding school survivors

Blue sky behind a Church's cross
Mitchell Leach
/
Unsplash
Blue sky behind a Church's cross

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops acknowledged the trauma caused by Catholic boarding schools in a 56-page document released last month about Indigenous ministry, stating that “it has played a part in traumas experienced by Native children.”

Data recorded by the organization found that 20% of Indigenous peoples in the U.S. identified as Roman Catholics.

In prior listening sessions with Native Americans, Catholic leaders found their churches did not offer welcoming environments for many Indigenous individuals. The recently released document suggests ways to reconcile that.

It offered recommendations, including alleviating boarding school trauma, building relationships with tribal leaders, and establishing education programs to teach Catholic clergy about Native American cultures. It also gave guidance on utilizing cultural elements in rituals, such as blessed salt and incense.

One suggestion the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, the Diocese of Tulsa and St. Gregory’s Abbey decided to implement was performing listening sessions within tribal communities.

Those three groups formed the Oklahoma Catholic Native Schools Project to hear from survivors who attended Catholic boarding schools in Oklahoma from 1880-1965, as well as descendants of survivors, to better understand their experiences.

Fourteen Catholic schools operated by different Catholic religious orders during that timeframe. The first school opened its doors in Konawa in 1880, according to the archdiocese.

The organizations involved in the project are teaming up with Marquette University, where the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions archives are held, to compile a report.

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

Survivors and their descendants interested in participating in the Oklahoma Catholic Native Schools Project must make an appointment to meet with an independent oral history interviewer.

The community dinners and private interviews will take place in Ardmore, Muskogee and Pawhuska in mid-to-late July:

Ardmore Convention Center, 2401 North Rockford Rd.

  • A community dinner will be held on July 15 at 6 p.m.
  • Oral history interviews will be conducted on July 16 from 8 a.m. - 8 p.m. 


Spaulding Park Scout House building in Muskogee, E. Okmulgee Ave.

  • A community dinner will be held on July 17 at 6 p.m.
  • Oral history interviews will be conducted on July 18 from 8 a.m. - 8 p.m. 


Pawhuska Indian Village, Wakon Iron Community Building, 181 Wakon Iron Blvd.

  • A community dinner will be held on July 19 at 6 p.m.
  • Oral history interviews will be conducted on July 20 from 8 a.m. - 8 p.m. 

Copyright 2024 KOSU

Sarah Liese reports on Indigenous Affairs for KOSU.