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St Labre Indian School

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Causes: Children & Youth, Children & Youth Services, Education, Primary & Elementary Schools, Secondary & High Schools

Mission: St. Labre Indian School, founded in 1884, was one of the first efforts to care for Native Americans who had been displaced as a result of homesteading. Today, St. Labre Indian School offers kindergarten through high school education for Crow and Northern Cheyenne children on three campuses. There is no tuition charged for any student to attend. The combined enrollment of all three campuses totals over 700 children.

Children who live more than 40 miles from our school stay in dormitories during the week. More than 1,000 meals are prepared each day including breakfast, lunch and dinner.

We combine education, spirituality and Native American culture to educate the whole child.

Community Story



Rating: 5

March 12, 2005
Church, school sued by tribe
Of The Gazette Staff

The Northern Cheyenne Tribe filed a lawsuit in Billings Friday against the Roman Catholic Church and the St. Labre Indian School Educational Association alleging that the school has used the tribe's "plight" and "financial need" to operate one of the most successful fund-raising enterprises in American history.

Today only a small percentage of students at St. Labre Mission are Northern Cheyenne, the lawsuit said, yet the school continues to raise money by marketing the tribe's poverty.

Northern Cheyenne President Eugene Little Coyote and the tribal council, which voted unanimously to authorize the lawsuit, allege that the school had "reaped enormous financial revenue and benefit" during the past 50 years.

"We're trying to make sure there is a more equitable distribution of the funds raised on the Northern Cheyenne reservation," Little Coyote said.

In just two of the past four years, St. Labre has reaped $57 million while poverty is rampant throughout the reservation, the lawsuit stated.

The lawsuit filed in Yellowstone District Court was first considered in 1998.

Billings attorney Cliff Edwards and his law firm are representing the Northern Cheyenne. St. Labre officials could not be reached for comment late Friday.

"It is not known to the Northern Cheyenne where these tens - probably hundreds - of millions of dollars have gone," the lawsuit stated.

The tribe is demanding that St. Labre open its books for the past half century through "forensic accounting" and pay all compensatory and punitive damages due under Montana law.

Other charges against St. Labre and the Catholic Church include:

Trespassing on tribal lands

Not compensating the tribe for the school's "impressive buildings and facilities" just outside Ashland

Imposing church values and religion on the tribe

Using without permission "the faces, stories and symbols of the Northern Cheyenne"

St. Labre Mission School was started on the reservation in 1884 to educate and to help the Northern Cheyenne. The small mission school has grown into a 100-acre modern campus.

The school raised money through mass marketing. It built a factory at Ashland in the early 1960s where tribal members made plastic items, including Indian dolls and costume jewelry, which were sent to donors.

The lawsuit names The Roman Catholic Church, the Dioceses of Great Falls/Billings, St. Labre Indian School Educational Association and St. Labre Home for Indian Children and Youth.

Jan Falstad can be contacted at (406) 657-1306 or at jfalstad@billingsgazette.com

Copyright © The Billings Gazette, a division of Lee Enterprises.