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Menominee Tribal members say ancestors’ stories and unmarked graves on reservation detail past residential school abuse

Published: Jul. 1, 2021 at 3:30 PM CDT
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KESHENA, Wis. (WBAY) - The recent discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves on the grounds of former residential schools for Indigenous children in Canada is triggering pain and anger on the Menominee Indian Reservation.

Tribal members say many of their ancestors suffered traumatic experiences at similar boarding schools on the reservation and across the country. They say their grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ stories, along with many unmarked graves near where boarding schools once stood, are proof of rampant abuse and neglect.

Behind a Catholic church in Keshena, Lorraine Shooter leads us into the woods where a number of Menominee children a buried.

“Some of the ages are pretty young and it makes you wonder how they passed away,” says Shooter.

Most of the graves on this land, though, are unmarked.

“Back here some of the elders had said that they just pushed the graves back there and there are people that a buried back there and that if you look back this way at a certain time of the year, and if you look down, you can see the mounds because they were just burying them on top of each other,” says Shooter.

For decades, from the mid-1800s to mid-1900s, Native American children were forced to attend government boarding schools and assimilate to Euro-American culture.

“Can you imagine somebody knocking on your door and taking your 5-year-old?” asks Shooter.

The schools were often run by the Catholic Church, and the Menominee Reservation had two of them.

“I went to Catholic school in Neopit, and I know that there was some sexual things going on up there, and I encountered something myself but I wasn’t willing to talk about that and there was different ones that had come out and said things that had happened to them,” says Menominee Tribal Legislator Myrna Warrington.

Other elders on the reservation declined to go on camera but shared stories of severe abuse and neglect at residential schools.

Shooter, who helps run an anti-drug organization in Keshena, says the trauma ancestors suffered has impacted generations.

“There’s a lot of them that came back home and brought that harm because they had been harmed like that since they were so small. That’s all they knew, and they came home as adults and they did that to their children, then their children did that to their children,” explains Shooter.

While the U.S. Secretary of the Interior has announced an investigation into the troubled past of boarding schools in this country and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released a statement pledging to “look for ways to be of assistance,” tribal members feel the government and Catholic Church owe much more than an apology.

“You should come over here and put treatment centers up and try to help our people with addiction problems we have, because we didn’t bring, we didn’t cause those addiction problems, they brought that here, they brought harm, brought addiction, brought rape, brought inter-generational trauma, historical trauma, they brought that hurt here. We are the grandchildren, the great grandchildren of the survivors of the residential schools and we’re still here and we’re angry, we’re hurt, we’re upset, where is accountability,” says Shooter.

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