U.S. Catholic bishops encourage government search for boarding school graves

Dec 1 (Reuters) - (This Dec. 1 story corrects name in paragraph 4 to Wall)

Two influential U.S. Roman Catholic Church bishops are encouraging their peers to cooperate with a federal investigation into abuses committed within the former Native American boarding school system.

In a letter sent to all U.S. bishops in November, Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, who heads a church committee on domestic justice, and Bishop James Wall of Gallup, New Mexico, who leads a church committee on Native American affairs, asked fellow bishops to hand over records investigators may seek and allow access to property where the unmarked remains of Native American students may lie.

Coakley's office confirmed in an email Wednesday that he and Wall sent the letter, which was seen by Reuters.

The U.S. Department of the Interior has said it will release a report on its investigation in April of next year. That report "will likely bring to light some very troubling information," Coakley and Wall wrote.

For over 150 years, beginning in 1819, Native American children in the United States were forcibly removed from their tribes and sent to such schools, many operated by Catholic and other churches on behalf of the government. Many children were abused at the schools, and tens of thousands were never heard from again, activists and researchers say.

Coakley and Wall urged bishops to reach out to Native Americans to understand "where reconciliation is needed and what form that might take."

Christine Diindiisi McCleave, head of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition and a descendant of school survivors, told Reuters that "churches can participate in truth telling, but they do not get to lead the healing for Native people."

Churches must use caution that any conversations do not add to trauma for survivors, she added.

Conditions at former Native American boarding schools gained global attention earlier this year when tribal leaders in Canada, which modeled boarding schools on the U.S. system, announced the discovery of the unmarked graves of 215 children at the site of the former Kamloops residential school for indigenous children.

(This story corrects name in paragraph 4 to Wall)

Reporting by Brad Brooks in Lubbock, Texas. Editing by Donna Bryson and Rosalba O'Brien

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