Truth and Healing

Truth and Healing

We are a religious congregation with a history of administering a Native American boarding school during the era of assimilating Indigenous children into Euro-American culture. We're studying our own history and impact at St. Mary’s Boarding School in Odanah, Wisconsin, from 1883 to 1969. Our hope is that as we listen to the painful and tragic experiences of Indigenous communities and take responsibility for the role we played, we can take action in dismantling systemic racism and white supremacy in ourselves and our areas of influence. Our intention is to address our complicity in unjust systems, both historically and now, and strive to enhance dignity and wholeness to those who have suffered for generations.

The FSPA Truth & Healing Team has set the following goals. We will: 

  • continue to research and educate sisters and all of our partners in mission about the history and impact of the boarding school era.
  • continue to cultivate relationships with indigenous peoples with whom we share a history and/or occupy ancestral lands.
  • continue to support and promote the efforts of U.S. Secretary Deb Haaland.

Bad River documentary

From the film's website: Bad River, the powerful new documentary film written and directed by award-winning filmmaker, Mary Mazzio (I Am Jane Doe, A Most Beautiful Thing) and narrated by Indigenous activist and model Quannah ChasingHorse and award-winning actor Edward Norton (Primal Fear, American History X, Birdman), chronicles the Wisconsin-based Bad River Band and its ongoing fight for sovereignty, a story which unfolds in a groundbreaking way through a series of shocking revelations, devastating losses, and a powerful legacy of defiance and resilience. This inspiring project brings us through an epic sweep of history into the present, with a David vs. Goliath battle to save Lake Superior, the largest freshwater resource in America. As Eldred Corbine, a Bad River Tribal Elder declares: “We gotta protect it… die for it, if we have to.”  Visit Bad River Film website for more information and theater dates and show times.

Events Spotlight:

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers | Comment by Aug. 4, 2024
The Army Corps of Engineers held a public hearing for Enbridge Line 5 Wisconsin segment relocation project. The corps is evaluating an application from Enbridge Energy to discharge dredged and fill material in waters of the U.S. and install a pipeline under navigable water of the U.S. associated with the construction of the proposed Line 5 Wisconsin segment relocation project.  The public is invited to submit comments by Aug. 4.
Read Notice of Public Hearing for the Enbridge Line 5 Wisconsin Segment

La Crosse Public Library Indigenous Film Series | July 18
Flags of Our Fathers, Thursday, July 18, 5-7 p.m. 

Podcast Spotlight

Learn more about La Crosse's history; listen to the account of the persecution and forced movement of Indigenous people -- the Ho-Chunk peoples -- as told by a citizen of the Ho-Chunk nation, Henry Greengrass.


Stories Spotlight

FSPA was featured in Franciscan Media's June 2024 issue, in the article, "Trauma and Truth: Native American Boarding Schools." In the article, Sister Georgia Christensen and FSPA Archivist and affiliate Meg Paulino were interviewed. The article touches on the importance of facing historical truths, understanding the depth of trauma inflicted and building restorative relationships with Indigenous communities. Read "Trauma and Truth: Native American Boarding Schools"

Wisconsin Public Radio recently shared a story about Pulitzer Prize finalist Michael Witgen's deep research of Indigenous and early North American history. Michael is a citizen of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe (Wisconsin).  "I think the history of Wisconsin’s colonization is new to most people," said Witgen. I don’t think people realize the extent to which history, particularly in the Midwest, is an Indigenous history. American history is intertwined with Indigenous history in a way that can't be separated. Read Pulitzer finalist: Colonizing Wisconsin was more about plunder than removing Indigenous people

Truth and Healing Commission

The Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration support the legislation to establish the Truth and Healing Commission on the Indian Boarding School Policy Act in the United States.

As members of The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, and in full support of legislation to establish the Truth and Healing Commission, we’re proactively working to  contribute our archival records to both the Bad River Tribe and NABS’ online database resources center. 


March 4, 2024
FSPA writes Wisconsin representatives encouraging their support for the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies Act of 2024. Read the letter here.

Feb. 6, 2024
H.R. 7227: Representatives Tom Cole (R-OK-04) and Sharice Davids (D-KS-03), Co-Chairs of the Congressional Native American Caucus, reintroduced the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies Act of 2024. The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition offers a toolkit to help everyone advocate for this bill. Visit U.S. Truth & Healing Commission Bill Advocacy Toolkit.

June 7, 2023
Boarding School Legislation Passes Senate Committee on Indian Affairs
The bill is S.1723, called the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States, was introduced by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) on May 18, with bipartisan support from 26 mostly Democratic senators. Warren spoke today at the Senate Committee business meeting to consider the legislation, saying it was “past time that the voices of survivors and other community members are fully heard.”

On March 30, 2023, The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition responded to the Vatican's statement renouncing the Doctrine of Discovery. In its statement, NABS demand that the "...Church supports the Truth and Healing Bill, which would establish a federal commission and conduct a full inquiry into the assimilative polices of U.S. Indian boarding schools." Read NABS believes Vatican's statement renouncing Discovery Doctrine lacks accountability. 

FSPA reiterated its support of H.R. 5444 (117th Congress) / S. 2907 (117th Congress) to U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin and Secretary Deb Haaland. We shared our commitment to address our complicity in unjust systems, both historically and now, and our work to enhance healing, dignity and wholeness to those who have suffered for generations. Read the FSPA message to Senator Baldwin and U.S. Secretary Haaland. 

NABS' one pager is a great resource that summarizes Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding Schools Policies Act.

Follow H.R. 5444 and S. 2907 Truth and Healing Act on

Upheld: Protecting the Indian Child Welfare Act

June 2023
The Supreme Court voted to uphold the Indian Child Welfare Act. This is a major vicotry for Native children, Native families and the future of Native Peoples. More to this story at Native News Online.

ICWA was put into law to protect the healing from generations of family separation that targeted Native peoples, and specifically children. Today, ICWA is labeled the gold standard in child welfare policy and practice by a coalition of child advocacy organizations within and outside of Indian Country (486 Tribal nations, 59 Native organizations, 31 child welfare organizations, 26 states + DC, and 77 members of Congress) because the law places kids with their extended families or communities, which is considered best practice by child welfare experts. This law ensures that Native children stay connected to their identity and culture.

If overturned, Tribal nations would have lost their ability to have a say in Native adoptions. The decision would have set a precedent with a ripple effect causing other sovereign rights related to gaming, land ownership, and more to be questioned. ICWA protects Tribal sovereignty and Native children.

S. 1214 - 95th Congress (1977-1978)
Supreme Court case (article)
Supreme Court Case (page)

Department of the Interior Report, Road to Healing Tour, Oral Histories

On May 11, 2022, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland released Volume 1 of the investigative report called for as part of the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative, a comprehensive effort to address the troubled legacy of federal Indian boarding school policies. This report lays the groundwork for the continued work of the Interior Department to address the intergenerational trauma created by historical federal Indian boarding school policies.

Read the full release

The report reflects an extensive and first-ever inventory of federally operated schools, including profiles and maps. Wisconsin includes 10 identified boarding schools, which includes the FSPA-run St. Mary's Indian Boarding School in Odanah.

Read the full 106-page report

Oral Histories
Announced in April 2023, the Department of the Interior and National Endowment for the Humanities announced a partnership to expand the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative through the collection of oral histories and digitization of records documenting the experiences of survivors and descendants of federal Indian boarding school policies. Read Interior Department, National Endowment for the Humanties Partner ot Preserve Federal Indian Boarding School Oral History and Records

Road to Healing
"As part of the initiative and in response to recommendations from the report, Haaland announced the launch of 'The Road to Healing' year-long tour. It’ll consist of a tour across the country to allow boarding school survivors to share their stories, help connect communities with trauma-informed support and to gather a permanent oral history." Read Indian Country Today’s coverage of the release

"Today, Native American elders of our generation, in speaking about the past, are allowing for the uncovering of truths. It is a painful but necessary to expose what happened so that our People and generations to come can begin to heal. It is time to break the intergenerational trauma caused by Indian boarding schools." Read Native News Online's "Elders are finally talking about their Indian Boarding School experiences."

April 2023 Update: As the Road to Healing tour continues across the country, read more about the latest stop in Washington in this article by ICT: Deb Haaland visits Tulalip to hear from boarding school survivors

FSPA repatriates cultural items to Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa

The Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration recently had the opportunity to meet with Bishop James Powers and Father Jerome D’Souza while in Ashland, Wisconsin. The meeting was held June 2, the day after members of the FSPA Truth and Healing Team took part in a repatriation ceremony with the Bad River Tribe. During that ceremony, thirty-nine cultural items from FSPA, including 25 paintings by Peter Whitebird, were returned home.

FSPA operated St. Mary’s Indian Boarding School from 1883 to 1969. And during the meeting with Bishop Powers and Father D’Souza, FSPA President, Sister Eileen McKenzie, explained, “We’re looking at the era of boarding schools through a different lens—a lens of cultural genocide. And, we’re understanding FSPA’s complicity in that era.” Sister Eileen was joined by eight members of the FSPA Truth and Healing Team, including sisters, affiliates and staff. Each member shared their experience of not only the repatriation ceremony, but of the education they’ve been undergoing, in earnest, since 2020.

“It’s complicated, difficult and hard to make a general statement,” said Sister Roselyn Heil, who ministers with the Catholic Communities of the Ashland Cluster. And Sister Kristin Peters added that “Our work now is holding sacred the stories and the trauma.”

Sister Eileen offered a timeline to Bishop Powers and Father D’Souza. She noted that the repatriation ceremony came after almost two years of study and exploration. “In 2020, the La Crosse County Historical Society invited FSPA to participate in an article about our history with St. Mary’s Boarding School. Shortly after, we formed a Truth and Healing team charged with studying our past. We also became members of The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition.” She added that in fall 2021, members of the Bad River Band Tribal Historic Preservation visited St. Rose Convent. A second visit is scheduled later this month.

Both the Bishop and Sister Eileen connected this work to the Synod on Synodality, the two-year process of listening and dialogue which began in Rome in 2021. “It’s a vulnerable process,” said Sister Eileen. We listen, dialogue and discern what healing can look like.” According to the Synod website, “The aim of the Synod is to provide an opportunity for the entire People of God to discern together how to move forward on the path toward being a more synodal Church in the long-term. Asking ‘How does this journeying together allow the Church to proclaim the Gospel in accordance with the mission entrusted to Her.’”

Both Sister Georgia Christensen and Sister Eileen offered that “We talk about truth and healing, not reconciliation. Healing because reconciliation takes for granted you had a mutual relationship in the first place. We need to reconcile with ourselves, but everyone gets to decide their own healing process.”

The FSPA Truth and Healing Team, Bishop Powers and Father D’Souza ended their time together asking “Who are we as Church?” And recognizing that this recent visit is really just the beginning of what’s to come in the journey of truth and healing.

This visit to Ashland follows Pope Francis’ apology to Indigenous leaders and survivors of Canada's residential schools (April 1) and the Department of Interior’s Investigative Report outlining next steps in Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative (May 11). And, the invitation came just weeks before the FSPA’s 2022 Mission Assembly, A Revolution Through Encuentro, where from June 10 to 12, sisters, affiliates and partners in mission met to deepen the FSPA commitment to celebrating authentically unity in diversity by challenging ourselves to unveil our white privilege.

Catholic Native Boarding School Accountability and Healing Project

Global Catholic Sisters Report's coverage of Indigenous boarding schools includes this article, "Inside the effort to identify Catholic-run boarding schools for Indigenous children." Here's an excerpt: 

For 150 years, the United States government financed more than 400 boarding schools across the United States, educating tens of thousands of Native American children but subjecting them to abuse, neglect, cultural oppression, and sometimes even death. But while the government has a list of every Navy ship the nation has floated, it has never compiled a list of the boarding schools it ran.

"There was no central place where all this information was held," said Brenna Cussen, who for the last two years has been part of a committee of the Catholic Native Boarding School Accountability and Healing Project, known as the AHP, which is compiling such a list. Cussen is also the religious communities liaison for the Nuns and Nones Land Justice Project.

Almost two dozen people sit on the AHP's archives committee, most of whom are archivists for religious congregations or members of orders with archives containing boarding school records. Together, they are working on a comprehensive list of schools Catholic entities ran from the 1820s to the 1960s as part of its wider work to address the role the church played in the U.S. government's attempted cultural genocide.

Read "Inside the effort to identify Catholic-run boarding schools for Indigenous children" 


Catholic Truth & Healing: Catholic-Operated Native Boarding Schools in the U.S.

Compiled by a group of archivists, historians, and concerned Catholics, the List of Catholic-operated Native Boarding Schools in the United States, pre-1978, represents the first and most comprehensive source for information on Native boarding schools that were overseen or staffed by the Catholic Church before 1978. Our motivation for assembling this data was to provide a resource to help boarding school survivors, their descendants, Tribal Nations, and the Church itself navigate the history of Catholic involvement with Native boarding schools.

Navigate the list

“While the list alone doesn’t provide us direct access to archives, it is a critical step in the process,” NABS’ CEO Deborah Parker (Tulalip) said in an emailed statement to Native News Online in response to the Catholic list. “We strongly encourage other institutions to follow suit in acknowledging the historical and ongoing injustices inflicted upon Indigenous peoples.” Read "'A Critical Step in the Process': Archivists Release List of Catholic-Run Indian Boarding Schools, from Native News Online


Doctrine of Discovery

On March 30, 2023, the Vatican formally repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery used to justify colonization. “...the new Vatican statement makes clear that the principle is not a Catholic doctrine and the 15th century papal bulls were no longer official Catholic teaching.” The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition responded, demanding more transparency and accountability. 

Read NABS statement on Vatican statement renouncing Discovery Doctrine lacks accountability
Read National Catholic Reporter's Vatican formally repudiates 'Doctrine of Discovery' used to justify colonization

Land Justice: FSPA as a Focus Community 

The Nuns and Nones Land Justice Project is an initiative that, together with religious communities and movement partners, creates new land transitions rooted in ecological and racial healing. The Focus Community program is a peer-based cohort of religious communities who are actively exploring a land justice property plan.  Hosted events include:

Moving Toward Repair: Boarding Schools and Land Justice, featuring Maka Black Elk and Henry Greengrass

Introduction to Land Justice and Transforming "Property"

Talk: Indigenous Stewardship and the Conservation Movement

Find more hosted event recordings on the Nuns & Nones learn with us site.

Early on in our work with Nuns and Nones, we explored five modules that expand the options available for land transition that protect and regenerate land, repair racial harm, cultivate climate-resilient communities, and expand land access. With long-term educational, technical, and financial support, and hand-in-hand movement partners, we can enable just and regenerative futures for lands and communities. 

Module 1: Land, Regeneration and Repair

Module 1 dives into the call and possibilities to “protect land, regenerate ecosystems, and secure long-term access, tenure, and equity to regenerative stewards — especially those most oppressed by our current economic system and colonial history. We also heard from guest speakers about the Indigenous-led regenerative kelp farm on the Sisters of St. Joseph coastal retreat center property. We hear about the trust and love from which this project flows, and their dreams for the future of the collaboration. Click here to watch the recording.

Further Reading

 - To learn more about the Shinnecock struggle for sovereignty and wellbeing, check out the PBS Documentary Conscience Point.
 - Instagram tips: Follow the Shinnecock Kelp Farmers here. Follow the wider movement to protect ancestral Shinnecock lands here.
 - Read the Imagining Land Justice guidebooks on Landback and Regenerating the Commons.

Module 2: Colonization, Racism and Re-imagining Solidarity

Module 2 of Land Justice Futures was a deep dive into the history of land dispossession, and the visions of a future without enclosure or injustice. Click here to watch the recording.

We spent our time with guest teachers, Priscilla Solomon, a Sister of St. Joseph of Sault Ste. Marie and Ojibway Anishinabekwe elder, and Deseree Fontenot of Movement Generation.

Check out the further resources recommended by them as well as members of our team.

Module 3: Laudato Si' & The New Cosmology: Evolving Our Spirituality Through Land Legacy

In Session 3, Sr. Sharon Zayac, Rick Ufford-Chase, and Sister Christin Tomy's sharings weave together a "contextual spirituality" for land justice: Sr. Sharon illuminates the "sense of the sacred interconnectedness of the whole" that undergirds this work, and the cosmic impulse that shifts us "from stewardship to solidarity." Rick shares why he sees racial and ecological healing and reparation as the central call of Christians today, and tells of how his local Presbyterian community returned the former Stony Point Church to the Ramapough Lenape people. And finally, Sr. Christin Tomy blows us all away, saying, "I am becoming increasingly aware of the collective power of women religious...What if we could all dream together about what [land justice] could look like? Click here to watch the recording.

We invite you to dream with Sister Christin's closing reflections:

"How are we called, in this moment, to move from stewardship to solidarity?
How are we called to be about that concrete work of healing and repair?
How can we start to see things that might feel like burdens — buildings, land, things that are too big for us — how can we see those as not problems but opportunities?
... And how can we dream together?"

Module 4: Collaboration and Co-Liberation: Meet the Stewards of a Climate Resilient Future

Session 4 wove together two powerful addresses from guest speakers Naima Penniman and Pat McCabe.

From Naima, we learned about the realities of Black land dispossession and food apartheid; the long and unbroken lineage of Black land stewards in the U.S.; and the powerful ways that Soul Fire Farm is nurturing a new wave of food (r)evolutionaries through training, education, and expanding land access to BIPOC farmers.

Pat McCabe, or Woman Stands Shining, offered powerful, open-hearted, and clear-seeing testimony to the complex braid of generational pain held by Indigenous people, the call to put life "back in the center" of our decisions, and the vision of an "unshakeable sisterhood" that can heal the world. Traversing many layers of story and wisdom, we hear stories ranging from the trauma of Pat's parents and grandparents in missionary boarding schools, to her own journey to re-open Diné access to land at the base of one of the four sacred mountains of the Diné people. Pat's testimony is unique in its candor, its power, and its belief in the magnitude of healing that is possible.

Consider journaling or reflecting with a fellow participant on Pat's closing question: "What could happen if the Church could fulfill its promise to be refuge, to be way-shower; to foster love, and peace, and justice, and understanding?"

May we ask this beautiful and courageous question, together, again and again.

Module 5: Nuts & Bolts: New Models for Prophetic Land Legacies

Session 5 included an all-star, all-heart lineup of law, real estate and land trust leaders: Janelle Orsi and Alejandra Cruz from the Sustainable Economies Law Center, Cassandra Ferrera from the Center for Ethical Land Transitions, and Ian McSweeney from Agrarian Trust. Together, they walked us through some of the "Nuts and Bolts" thinking of land transitions. Click here to watch the recording.

>>> ENCOURAGED READING: Legal Tools for Land Return! <<<
Janelle Orsi has prepared this article especially for Land Justice Futures attendees! In plain, accessible language, Janelle walks through the current problems with the real estate system, the possibilities for new thinking and healing action, and helpful links and ideas to get us there. While it is not required, we strongly encourage you to give it a read before watching Session #5. Click here for the discussion guide.

Indian Country Today journalist's visit St. Rose Convent

Mary Annette Pember, a journalist with Indian Country Today who also authored the article in The Atlantic titled "The traumatic legacy of Indian boarding schools," visited St. Rose Convent. Mary Annette's mother was a student at the FSPA-run St. Mary's Indian Boarding School and her visit to St. Rose included time in the archives. "The Mother House may be one of the most unlikely spaces to encounter a stunning example of Native resistance to U.S. assimilationist policies. But there it was, hidden in an old report languishing deep within the recesses of the sisters’ archives." Read "Perspective: Archived documents reveal covert resistance to boarding school assimilation." Her coverage continues with "An unexpected apology." 


FSPA history in the boarding school era

FSPA has engaged with the community in study of our former ministry at St. Mary’s BoardingPast, Present & Future historical society article on FSPA and Indian School School with the La Crosse County Historical Society. “For the FSPAs and the people of La Crosse,” reads an article published by the society, “St. Mary’s School is one of those histories removed from our daily experience by time and distance, but nevertheless important to understand our relationship with Indigenous communities.” 

La Crosse County Historical Society, September 2020
"A troubled past: The Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration and St. Mary’s Indian School"
The article includes a link to Mary Annette Pember's article, "Death by Civilization"

Historical trauma of the Indian Boarding School Era

The Wellbriety Journey to Forgiveness is a powerful video from White Bison about its 40-day, 6800 mile cross-country journey to present and former Indian School sites. This is an extremely powerful film produced for truth-telling and healing by White Bison. It is difficult to watch and will bring up all kinds of emotion. Watch with care.

Cultivating Relationships

The FSPA Truth and Healing team articulated a goal to cultivate our relationship with the people of Odanah. We are moving this work forward as we continue reaching out, listening and learning. Steve Bulley, a member of the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa and graduate of St. Mary’s, is on our Truth and Healing team and is discerning with us how to best support the people of Odanah in the federal truth initiative. Our archivist continues to explore how we can share materials and artifacts that are pertinent to both FSPA and the people of Odanah. Sister Rose Heil serves as the pastoral associate of St. Mary's Parish in Odanah. 

FSPA Truth and Healing Team Members: Sisters Georgia Christensen, Carolyn Heil, Roselyn Heil, Catherine Kaiser, Marla Lang, Eileen McKenzie, Kristin Peters; Partners in Mission on staff Jane Comeau and Meg Paulino; and Gary Robbins, collaborator and consultant, and Steve Boulley, Wisconsin Tribal Judges Association

Land Acknowledgement

FSPA acknowledges that St. Rose Convent occupies the unceded ancestral and traditional land of the Ho-Chunk. We understand that our organization and our city were founded upon the exclusions and erasures of many Indigenous peoples, including the Sauk and Meskwaki,  and the Ochethi Sakowin who frequented La Crosse, and we vow to work towards dismantling the ongoing legacies of settler colonialism. But we realize that saying this only has meaning when coupled with the development of authentic relationships and sustained action. We therefore pledge to move beyond mere words and to develop programs, policies and actions that fully embody our commitment to indigenous rights and cultural equity. We affirm Indigenous sovereignty and will work to hold ourselves accountable to the needs of our Indigenous brothers and sisters.

FSPA Anti-Racism Vision

Our truth and healing work intersects with our commitment to awareness, analysis and action; we are praying, learning and acting with those who grant us the insight and courage to know how we can begin dismantling FSPA racism.

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