(KXNET)— Monday was marked by a historic moment, as Pope Francis visited Canada and issued a historic apology for the Catholic Church’s cooperation with Canada’s policy of Indigenous residential schools.

In the United States, an investigative report was issued by the U.S. Department of Interior in May. The report outlined, for the first time, an official list of federal Indian boarding schools across the country, including a dozen in North Dakota with some having more than one location.

The report noted “The Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative sheds a new light on how the Federal Indian boarding school system produced intergenerational trauma by disrupting family ties in Indian Tribes, Alaska Native Villages, and the Native Hawaiian Community.” The intergenerational trauma is still felt by many today.

Dr. Denise Lajimodiere’s interest in the Federal Indian boarding school experience began at home, with her own family.

“My grandfather, Ben Lajimodiere, my dad’s dad went to school here. I have a photo of him in 1898 when he was 9 years old. He was sent here along with his sister. And then I recently, within the last couple years, found a record in the state historical society of my father having been sent here,” said Lajimodiere.

The “here” Lajimodiere refers to is the Fort Totten Indian Boarding School, one of the 408 federal Indian boarding schools identified as operating in the U.S. between 1819 to 1969.

“Papa told me that he went to school here. What he didn’t tell me is that he ran away. He ran away and then they sent him for, he says three days and three nights, on a train with his sister to Chemawa, Oregon,” said Lajimodiere.

The boarding schools often deployed military-style discipline and tactics that stripped the culture and identities of American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian children in a policy of forced assimilation.

“He didn’t speak a word of English. He was beaten severely, for not speaking English. He said: ‘I just couldn’t learn that English. It was a hard language to learn,'” said Lajimodiere.

The report also notes quote “The Federal Indian boarding school system at times made older Indian children punish younger Indian children.”

“He was made to lay over a bed holding his heads and his legs so his back was exposed, and the little boys had to line up behind him and hit him with a belt. And he said it had studs on it. And they beat him until it sounds like it was bloody,” said Lajimodiere.

As she learned about her own family’s experience in the Federal Indian Boarding School system, Lajimodiere wanted to document the experiences of others, creating a written record of stories that have often gone untold.

“It’s not in the history books. Someone said well, you were written out of the history books. I said we weren’t written into the history books,” said Lajimodiere. So she wrote her own book detailing boarding school experiences, entitled Stringing Rosaries.

“In the last chapter of my book, I talked about unresolved grief, a soul wound. [My father] did not know why he was sent to boarding school, why they treated him like that, why it was forced English upon him. He had to choose a church. He said ‘I had to choose a church or I wouldn’t eat.’ So he chose a Catholic church,” said Lajimodiere.

According to the report, quote “Initial investigation results show that approximately 50 percent of Federal Indian boarding schools may have received support or involvement from a religious institution or organization, including funding, infrastructure, and personnel.”

“The churches have done so much, so much trauma. Caused so much trauma, so much abuse, all in the name of God,” said Dr. Ramona Charette Klein, an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa and a Fort Totten Boarding School survivor.

Klein’s story is one of those featured in Stringing Rosaries. The book also begins with a poem written by her.
Klein was one of a handful of boarding school survivors who testified about their boarding school experiences before a House Subcommittee in May.

“I remember seeing my mom crying as she stood and watched six of her eight children being placed on a big green bus and taken to Fort Totten Indian Boarding School in Fort Totten, North Dakota,” testified Klein during the hearing. “That image is forever imprinted in my mind and in my heart,” said Klein.

As Klein spoke, Lajimodiere sat right behind her, listening to every word.

“There was a lot of tears,” said Lajimodiere. “There’s still so much hurt that these survivors carry. Even though they’ve, I’m sure they’ve been through therapy and some are recovering alcoholics. But I think it was a start of healing for a nation, for all the survivors in the United States. And I worry about them because Canada has hotlines to call, for survivors when they’ve been triggered by news like this. Well, we don’t have anything in the United States,” said Lajimodiere.

But there are efforts to change that. A bill introduced in both the U.Ss House and Senate would, if passed, establish the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies to formally investigate and document the policies of the boarding schools as well as the impact of intergenerational trauma. It would also make recommendations, such as the establishment of a nationwide hotline for survivors and affected community members.

“It’s so important that we have mechanisms in place, also, to support boarding school survivors. Because it’s heavy. It’s really heavy,” said District 27 State House Representative Ruth Buffalo.

Klein said she still has vivid flashbacks from her time at boarding school.

“People don’t want to go back to that pain. You experience it all over again,” said Klein.

But both Klein and Lajimodiere say they are motivated by a compelling reason to share stories of the boarding school experience with others.

“It means that maybe there is a chance that someone, or people, may hear my voice. And know that that trauma still impacts me today,” said Klein.

“Most of them said ‘tell the world what happened to us’. So that’s why I keep doing these interviews. Because these survivors asked me to tell the world what happened to them. So as hard as this may be on me, it’s nothing compared to what they went through as children at these hell holes called boarding schools. And this is one of them where we’re at right now. Fort Totten is one of the worst,” said Lajimodiere.

They both are speaking about these experiences and letting the world know what happened so that perhaps from the darkness of a painful past, there can emerge a more enlightened today and tomorrow.

“I think it’s a chance, a beginning to start healing,” said Lajimodiere.