Four of the sisters of 9 Little Girls attended the Native American Day Parade in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, last month to bring awareness to the abuses and lack of justice for victims of boarding school staff and church personnel. From left: Francine Charbonneau Soli, Louise Charbonneau Aamot, Geraldine Charbonneau Dubourt and Barbara Charbonneau Dahlen. Photo: 9 Little Girls

Native Sun News Today: Sisters share stories of abuse at Indian school

Two sisters speak of abuse at Marty Indian School
By Richie Richards
Native Sun News Today Correspondent

PIERRE - Two of the nine sisters who make up the 9 Little Girls abuse survivor advocacy group want their stories told, in order to bring justice and healing for the many who suffered during the boarding school era.

9 Little Girls is made up of nine sisters who were placed in Indian mission boarding schools during the mid-twentieth century; a time when Indian children were being sent to these church-run schools across the country. 

The Charbeneau sisters (Joann, Mary Lou, Gerri, Francine, Louise, and Barbara, 3 sister wish to remain unidentified) were living in North Dakota with their parents in a loving home. Their parents had wanted a good education for their daughters, as they understood education was a means of survival in modern society at the time.

As all nine sisters had attended St. Paul’s Indian Mission (now Marty Indian School), each had allegedly suffered abuse from church and boarding school staff. None of the sisters had spoke about the trauma of sexual, emotional, spiritual, mental and physical abuse until fairly recently after the passing of their parents. The haunting memories of this abuse are still a major part of their lives.

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Marty Indian School (as it is now called) is located in Marty, South Dakota, on the Yankton Sioux Reservation in the southeast corner of the state. The quiet campus is a couple of miles from the Missouri River and lies on prairie lands surrounded by corn fields and other crops. This isolated community sits many miles from any larger town in South Dakota and provided a perfect environment for alleged abusers to sustain this dark lifestyle; abusers who were part of the church.

The campus of M.I.S. is made up of about one dozen brick buildings which are located next a large white church and convent building. The church is a dominant figure on the school grounds and continues to have an overbearing presence in the lives of the victims who claim to have been abused by the priests and nuns who worked there.

Within the dozen or so buildings are multiple doors, with multiple levels which open in nearly every direction. The buildings have many storage spaces, dark areas and rooms which seem to serve no function. There are underground tunnels which connect each building which have entrance points in the basements of the buildings. According to one sister, these tunnels served as corridors by which church staff and others could easily have access to children.

The Charbonneau sisters were sent to St. Paul’s during the mid-1950. Like many families, their parents had wanted a solid education for their children and the Indian mission seemed like that place; a place that was seemingly protected by religion and god. This could not be further from the truth for many who attended these boarding schools. Part of the control tactics by the staff was to isolate family members from each other; the sisters believe this was done to keep them from sharing of their horrible experiences with one another.

The 9 Little Girls are raising money on GoFundMe as part of a campaign to change South Dakota laws and protect survivors of child abuse.

Native Sun News Today interviewed two of the nine Charbonneau sisters (Geraldine Charboneau Dubourt and Louise Charbonneau Aamot) who are collectively working to change legislation in South Dakota; which will bring justice, closure and healing to not only themselves but the thousands of elders who share their experience.

Sad to leave home, the sisters claim their first experiences were of sadness, yet amazement at their new home when they came to St. Paul’s (now Marty Indian School). The fear and excitement soon gave way to reality.

“My first memories of being dropped off at the boarding school was of amazement. I did not know until years later it was a reservation or the Yankton Sioux Reservation, and that the nuns and priests would be horrific to the children,” said Geraldine.

Her sister Louise made a similar statement regarding her first days at the boarding school. “My first experience of being at Marty would be when I was 7 years old, so that would have been in 1956. I remember coming there to do the first grade, being very afraid and not knowing really where we were and why we're there; except that our parents were told it would be a good education.”

The #9littlegirls had the honor of being in the 1st ever Native American Day Parade in Sioux Falls. The sisters handed...

Posted by 9littlegirls on Monday, October 8, 2018

The sisters quickly adapted to the daily routine of prayer, meals, school and cleaning. They “learned to master the routines quickly” or face the consequences of being punished severely. The punishment ranged from isolation to beatings in front of other children.

“The daily routines were usually church every day, breakfast, school and then cleaning after school. Maybe getting to go out and play with no supervision, so we were there outside fending for ourselves,” said Geraldine.

Despite the horrors of adjusting to boarding school life and strict rules (school rules and rules made by church staff), the sisters managed to make lasting friendships. According to the pair, these friendships were out of loneliness and out of survival. Friends became necessities in order to survive. “We always had our clicks. I made lasting friendships that last through today,” said Geraldine. “You had to have your clicks to take up for each other, or you would have been severely beaten on a daily routine level.”

“My friendships at Marty were good ones. I had three friends that we hung around together all the time. No longer today do we talk to each other. We have all gotten older and had our own lives, but they remain in my heart forever because we protected each other from a lot of things at Marty,” Louise said.

As far as having any favorite teachers or staff at St. Paul’s, both sisters said they did not have a favorite; mostly due to their claims of not having any adult to turn to for nurturing. These girls were between the ages of 6 and 8 when their abuse began. “There was no one that you could go to for comfort except your friends. They (staff) hated us. They made us know they hated us in any uncertain terms. We never got hugs. We never got cuddling. We never got anything. Nothing,” said Geraldine.

Louise said she also had no favorite teachers or staff. The lack of human connection in itself has been a traumatic experience for these sisters. This went directly against the daily bible teachings, which instructed love and compassion for fellow human beings. This was confusing for their adolescent minds.

“The only favorites that we ever had were the kids that we played with and we were close to them,” said Louise. “I wouldn’t have known what a hug is or how to have a bond with anybody, until we were in the summertime with her mother. She was a wonderful woman. Really until I married, I never knew what having a real bond in my life was.”

This experience of not having healthy affection shown at the boarding school has affected many from this generation; many elders do not know how to give this type of affection to their kids and grandkids.

It did not take long for the alleged abuse to begin, according to the sisters. “To begin, my abuse probably started when I was 8 by Father Francis trying to feel me up. Other than that, he really didn’t abuse me. The most abuse was mental abuse, social abuse. My abuse came when the kids used to tease me and say that Father George was in love with me, and he kissed me several times,” said Geraldine.

The St. Paul’s Indian Mission School is now known as the Marty Indian School. It's located in Marty, South Dakota, on the Yankton Sioux Reservation. Photo: Ammodramus

Geraldine says that she was one of the servants in the pius dining room. She claims that a Father Francis was present when a Father George had “kissed her.” Upon seeing the inappropriate gesture, she claims that Father Francis had laughed and made a joke of how the priest had ‘saved her for yourself. ‘This comment she shared exemplifies the open nature of these abuses and the acceptance of one another’s crimes behind church doors.

Geraldine was one of two sisters who endured the most abuse; as the two sisters were protecting the other girls. “Then when I was 16, right before my birthday in February where I would’ve been 17, he raped me. He raped me and I became pregnant, which I didn’t know what had happened to me. I never knew what was wrong, until they took me to the infirmary,” she said.

“They said we have to fix this because of her parents. Our parents weren’t reservation people, so they knew that dad would probably come and we were afraid to tell him. They said if we told our mother and dad, that we would go to hell. It was quite a dilemma for the children,” said Geraldine.

According to her statement shared with Native Sun News Today, the pregnancy was aborted and she claims that her sister (Barbara Charbonneau Dahlen) has verification of this story; as she was made to handle the remains of the unborn child. The remains were put into an incinerator by her sister, according to Geraldine.

“As far back as could remember, I think that my abuse started when I was in about the third grade. It was the feeling up from Father Francis,” said Louise. She spoke of one St. Paul’s staff member who had access to the buildings and the keys to various areas who became one of her sexual abusers, as well. “The horrific pain that you suffer after someone does something like that to you, you wouldn’t tell anybody. The shame of it is unbearable. You don’t talk about those things with someone else, not even your friends at school, so certainly not your parents.”

The sexual abuse continued for Louise until she was in the sixth grade. She claims that she had began her women’s cycle and her abusers had moved on to younger children. It seems that being able to get pregnant was what turned her alleged abusers away.


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