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SPECIAL REPORT: Secrets of Holy Childhood, Part 1

This summer, hundreds of unmarked graves were discovered in Canada at what used to be Indigenous boarding schools.

The discovery stunned people in Canada and around the world. It also put a spotlight on similar schools in the U.S.

Michigan was home to three Native American boarding schools, one in Baraga in the Upper Peninsula, another in Mount Pleasant and a third in Harbor Springs.

That school was among the last to be closed in the U.S., after being open for nearly a century.

The boarding school opened in the 1800s as part of a nationwide effort by the U.S. government to wipe out Native American culture and address a so called ‘Indian problem.’

The schools forced students to learn English and they were forbidden from speaking their native language or practicing many of their traditions.

Kim Fyke and Linda Cobe both attended Holy Childhood, and say that was the case in Harbor Springs.

“They cut everyone’s hair short, boys and girls and they assigned us our clothes, and you only had so many outfits to wear. We were expected to look a certain way, talk a certain way, we didn’t dare challenge the authority there, the nuns. We had to clean our plate clean and if we didn’t, we got punished for that,” said Cobe.

Both say the nuns were abusive towards Native American students, physically, emotionally and sometimes sexually.

“Halloween was the worst. There was a time they dropped us all off in the cemetery, all us little girls, put us in the back of the truck, dropped us off in the middle of the night and made us find our way back. Another Halloween I found a bone in my bed with my name written on it,” said Fyke.

In many cases, parents had no choice but to send their children to these schools.

If they didn’t, they risked losing government rations and supplies.

“Our parents somehow just cooperated, I think they were powerless to do anything. We just knew that when the van showed up to pick up the kids, we’d run out into the woods and hide for a while but that didn’t really work, they’d wait until we came out,” said Cobe.

And students were allowed few, if any personal possessions.

“I just grabbed a couple of my things, put it in a paper bag and when we got there they took them and I don’t’ know what they did with them, burned them or what. They didn’t want you to have anything that reminded you of home,” said Cobe.

Kim left the school in 1974, Linda in 1965, but the school would remain open until the 1980s, before being torn down in the 2000s.

But the memory of what went on there for generations has hardly faded.

“The archway doesn’t bother me, hearing the bell of the church does, and that church bell, I don’t even know how to explain it, made my heart jump a few times,” said Fyke.

“Anytime I hear the word Harbor Springs it just takes me right back to the boarding school of Holy Childhood and what went on there, the torturous day after day, thinking you’re never going to get out of there and the loneliness of missing your family and the effect that it had on us,” said Cobe.

Pope Francis recently said he is willing to travel to Canada to take part in ‘healing and reconciliation’ with Native American communities.

That visit is expected to happen in the coming months.

We also reached out to the Diocese of Gaylord, about allegations of abuse at Holy Childhood.

They responded with this statement:

“This summer [2021], we were troubled to learn of the discoveries of unmarked, mass graves in Canada on or near the sites of former Indigenous residential schools. We continue to pray for those mourning and grieving as a result. Understandably with these discoveries, concerns have been raised regarding Indigenous schools here in the United States, and, more closely, in our own diocese. An Indigenous residential school, Holy Childhood of Jesus, was formerly operational in Harbor Springs from the 1800s to 1983. While much good was done there over the years, there is also a great amount of hurt and sorrow weaved into that history. The diocese is aware of painful accounts including the disturbance of unmarked graves in the early years (1890s) during construction of the city street, as well as more recent personal accounts and allegations of misconduct brought forward by former students and their families.

“These matters are deeply concerning, and I join the past bishops of this diocese who have expressed sincere apology for wrongdoing that has caused such lasting harm and suffering. The diocese remains committed to an affirming relationship with tribal members, and our prayer is for continued healing for all involved, particularly those who are still suffering today.

“In order to provide help to victim-survivors of abuse and to bring about accountability for those responsible, we urge that any allegation, regardless of when it occurred, be formally reported. Individuals can file a report by contacting law enforcement; the Michigan Department of Attorney General at 844-324-3374; or the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services at 855-444-3911. Reports can also be made to Church authorities by contacting the Diocese of Gaylord’s Victim Assistance Coordinator at 989-705-9010 to ensure that proper support is available to victim-survivors and that anyone responsible for misconduct is held accountable.

“As it relates to historical issues involving the disturbance of unmarked graves in the parish’s graveyard, it remains of the utmost importance that we show proper care and respect for the dead. To this end, matters involving the parish’s graveyard have been handled in collaboration with the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, particularly during an extensive renovation to the church in the 1990s and from that time onward. This will continue to be the case moving forward.”



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