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November 9, 2023

Indigenous Communities, Child-Family Separation, and the Catholic Church: What Do Truth and Healing Require?

Showing the Indigenous Communities, Child-Family Separation, and the Catholic Church Video

For centuries, Indigenous children were removed from their families and sent to boarding schools or placed in adoptive non-Indigenous families. Hundreds of thousands of American Indian, Alaska Native, Canadian First Nations, Native Hawaiian, and Aboriginal children in Australia were forced to attend Catholic mission schools, where many experienced hunger, violence, forced labor, and sexual abuse. Indigenous parents and children who resisted child-family separation were harshly punished. The goal of forcible removals was to assimilate Indigenous children into Western society, erasing Indigenous identity, languages, cultures, and religious practices. This was a legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery and a series of papal bulls that had been used since the fifteenth century to justify colonization by European powers and missionaries. Forced child-family separation was endorsed by the governments of Australia, Canada, and the United States, a history which each country continues to reckon with today.

During this webinar, participants explored the role of the Catholic Church in the separation of Indigenous children from their families and the long-lasting effect on Indigenous communities. How has this history been felt and experienced by those who were separated and their descendants? How did the Catholic Church justify the separation of Indigenous children from their families at the time? How are the Catholic Church and governments addressing this history now? What is necessary to move towards a future grounded in truth, justice, restoration, and healing?

The forum on Faith and the Family: Propagating and Preventing Child-Family Separation across Time and Context is convened by Catholic Relief Services and Georgetown University’s Collaborative on Global Children’s Issues, in coordination with the Changing the Way We Care initiative and strategic partners. This webinar is co-sponsored by the Georgetown University Indigenous Studies Working Group.

English, French, and Spanish interpretation are available. 

Photo courtesy of Pixabay user mojzagrebinfo.


View articles, statements, and other resources for this event.


Rev. Peter Bisson, S.J.

Rev. Peter Bisson, S.J.

Rev. Peter Bisson, S.J., is a Jesuit priest in the Jesuit province of Canada. He currently serves as the assistant to the Jesuit provincial for justice, ecology and Indigenous relations and participates in Kateri Native Ministry in Ottawa. From 2009 to 2015, he represented the Jesuits at meetings of the parties to the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. These involvements launched him into reconciliation and decolonization work.

Gillian Huebner

Gillian Huebner

Gillian Huebner (moderator) directs the Collaborative on Global Children’s Issues at Georgetown University. A global child rights and protection specialist, her background includes a focus on child-family separation and children living outside of family care. Gillian has worked with the UN, the U.S. government, private foundations, multiple non-governmental organizations, and as an independent consultant.

Mary Beth Iduh

Mary Beth Iduh

Mary Beth Iduh is the senior program manager for faith engagement and strengthening families for thriving children at Catholic Relief Services (CRS). She brings more than 17 years of Catholic international development experience to CRS, where she has worked on child-focused issues in Africa and South America and deepening global solidarity within the Catholic community in the United States. Iduh has an undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of Notre Dame and dual master’s degrees in pastoral ministry and global macro social work from Boston College.

Stephanie A.T. Jacobe

Stephanie A.T. Jacobe

Stephanie A.T. Jacobe currently serves as the director of archives for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington. In November 2021, she was appointed as one of two representatives from the Association of Catholic Diocesan Archivists to the archives committee of the U.S. Catholic Indigenous Boarding School Accountability and Healing Project. Dr. Jacobe worked with members of the archives committee to edit and release a list of Catholic-operated boarding schools in May 2023.

Jim LaBelle, Sr.

Jim LaBelle, Sr. (Inupiaq)

Jim LaBelle, Sr. (Inupiaq) is an Indian boarding school survivor (1955-1965) and board president of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition. He has taught at the University of Alaska and Alaska Pacific University. He has 20 years of experience working with the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. A Vietnam-era veteran, LaBelle also served as a community development and local government specialist for the Department of Regional and Community Affairs for the state of Alaska.

Sam Torres

Samuel Torres (Mexica/Nahua)

Samuel Torres (Mexica/Nahua) is the deputy chief executive officer for the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition (NABS). He has worked on several projects such as the Indian Child Removal Study, the development of Indian boarding school research, and the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative. Mexica/Nahua on his father's side, and Irish/Scottish on his mother’s, Dr. Torres is actively learning and practicing Nahua language, traditions, and ceremony.