Truth Telling and Indian Boarding Schools

The remains of 215 First Nation children were found just months ago in unmarked graves at the Catholic-run Indian Residential School in British Columbia. The discovery is evidence of the trauma and suffering perpetrated there, said Jacob Jurss, PhD, St. Thomas adjunct history professor and a Native American history scholar. Jurss spoke as part of the College of Arts and Sciences Teach-in Tuesday series.

These schools, including 367 in the United States, left a legacy of intergenerational trauma affecting hundreds of thousands. Eighty schools had Catholic ties.

While this legacy of forced assimilation and white supremacy is well documented by Indigenous communities, Jurss said many people fail to fully acknowledge and confront this history of colonialism.

“With increased knowledge comes responsibility to act,” Jurss said. “As a community, we are responsible to each other, and while our actions today cannot ease the suffering of these children, recognizing, acknowledging and better understanding the past helps us see more clearly our present.”

A member of the committee that prepared St. Thomas’ land acknowledgment statement, Jurss said in his presentation that the statement is meant to be the front door to a larger conversation.

“The conversation includes discussions of honoring American Indian treaty rights, questioning why there are so many missing and murdered Indigenous women, acknowledging the continued legacy of colonization and clearly recognizing the role the Catholic Church has played in this history," he said.

Father Chris Collins, vice president for mission, and Liz Wilkinson, PhD, professor in the English Department, joined Jurss for the discussion and an audience Q&A moderated by Mike Klein, PhD, associate professor of justice and society studies.

Teach-in Tuesdays debuted in the 2018-19 academic year and aims to provide a space for meaningful learning and discussion around issues that impact our community. The series leverages the expertise of College of Arts and Sciences faculty to present on and invite discussion of important and urgent themes of the day.

The next event in this series is set to focus on Anti-Asian American bias, taking place at noon on Dec. 7.

Opportunities for students

The production for Teach-in Tuesdays is run by St. Thomas students. Emerging Media Department students get hands-on learning on-camera and in-studio production, lighting, video and operating studio equipment and post-production.