My relatives went to a Catholic school for Native children. It was a place of horrors | Nick Estes

After the discovery of 751 unmarked graves at the site of a former school for Native children in Canada, it is time to investigate similar abuses in the US

There is so much mourning Native people have yet to do. The full magnitude of Native suffering has yet to be entirely understood, especially when it comes to the nightmarish legacies of American Indian boarding schools. The purpose of the schools was “civilization”, but, as I have written elsewhere, boarding schools served to provide access to Native land, by breaking up Native families and holding children hostage so their nations would cede more territory. And one of the primary benefactors of the boarding school system is the Catholic church, which is today the world’s largest non-governmental landowner, with roughly 177 million acres of property throughout the globe. Part of the evidence of how exactly the church acquired its wealth in North America is literally being unearthed, and it exists in stories of the Native children whose lives it stole, which includes my own family.

Last month, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation made a grisly discovery of 215 children’s remains at a burial site next to the former Kamloops Indian residential school in British Columbia. The news sent shockwaves through Indian Country. On Tuesday, the US interior secretary, Deb Haaland, announced that her department would lead an investigation into “the loss of human life and lasting consequences” of federal Indian boarding schools. Although it’s unclear whether the scope of the investigation will include church-run schools, it should because many of the Catholic-run schools received federal trust money set aside for Native education.

The full magnitude of Native suffering has yet to be entirely understood

Related: US to investigate ‘unspoken traumas’ of Native American boarding schools

Related: Canada must reveal ‘undiscovered truths’ of residential schools to heal

Nick Estes is a citizen of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe. He is a journalist, historian, and host of The Red Nation Podcast. He is the author of Our History Is the Future: Standing Rock Versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance (Verso, 2019)

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