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The founding of St. Labre Indian School in 1884 was one of the first efforts to care for Native Americans who had been displaced as a result of homesteading. George Yoakam, a former soldier who had been stationed near Miles City, Montana, recognized the hard times experienced by the Northern Cheyenne. He contacted Montana Bishop John Brondel and told him of Indian people who were roaming the Tongue River Valley without homes or land - a reservation had not yet been set aside as their land. Land was purchased by the Bishop, and on March 29, 1884, St. Labre Indian School became a reality.
In response to a request by Bishop Brondel for priests and nuns to work among the Northern Cheyenne, three Ursuline nuns and their Superior arrived from Toledo, Ohio. The Mother Superior left after seeing the three to St. Labre and getting them settled. A three-room log cabin served as residence, school, dormitory, and even as a church.
The hardships during the years that followed were many. Due to lack of funds, the school was at times on the verge of closing. In 1954, only 64 children were enrolled. As a result of the generosity of many people who had learned of St. Labre, the school survived and began to grow.
In 1965, St. Labre Indian School was asked to extend its support to the Crow Indian Reservation. This resulted in the development of two additional campuses - Pretty Eagle Catholic School at St. Xavier and St. Charles Mission School at Pryor - which continue today.
Unfortunately, not all the children cared for by St. Labre come from nurturing homes. Often, the devastation of alcoholism or drug abuse in the home presents dangerous situations for children. St. Labre's Youth and Family Services Program offers individual, group and family counseling to those in crisis. In addition, to instill respect and compassion in our children the Youth and Family Services Program engages our students in outreach programs to the elders and those most in need within our communities.
The St. Labre "miracle" does not end at the educational level. Mindful of our responsibility to serve as an important member of the community in which we exist, many other programs and services are provided.
In the belief that healthy communities support our efforts to educate our Native American children, St. Labre assists a variety of community programs. They include the Northern Cheyenne Boys and Girls Club, Northern Cheyenne Tribal Charities, Crow Tribal Substance Abuse Program, and various Native American cultural celebrations. We see these efforts as a means of strengthening our community - keeping it whole. Often, caring for the child means caring for the child's family and environment as well.
In an area where unemployment rates exceed 50%, St. Labre provides productive employment. More than half of our employees are Native Americans, and we subscribe to a vigorous policy of recruitment from within for job enrichment and advancement. We also strive to recruit from nearby Indian reservations whenever possible.
Another aspect of caring for our community is St. Labre's ongoing efforts to curb alcohol and drug abuse. It is impossible to understand the struggle of Native Americans without also understanding the toll taken by alcoholism and drug abuse. It is estimated that every family living on the Indian reservations we serve has been touched by these devastating problems in one form or another. St. Labre provides full-time drug and, alcohol counselors to serve our students and their families, and grants to fund treatment at area drug and alcohol treatment centers for Native American individuals.
Today , St. Labre Indian School offers preschool through high school education for Crow and Northern Cheyenne children. Combined enrollment at all three St. Labre campuses is nearly 750 children and continues to grow.
Children who live more than 40 miles from our school campus stay in dormitories during the week. They arrive by bus on Sunday evening and return to their families on weekends and during the summer months. More than 1,000 meals are prepared each day including a nutritious breakfast, hearty lunch, and a full evening meal.
Our high school is fully accredited by the Montana State Office of Public Instruction and by the Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges. In addition to a regular program of elementary and secondary education, we offer classes in industrial arts, business, home economics, music and art, as well as a full complement of sports and athletics.
The St. Labre educational experience also places great importance on Native American culture and tradition. Instruction in Native American language and culture is a vital part of the St. Labre curriculum. We also offer courses in Native American literature, history, and tribal government.
St. Labre truly is a unique educational environment. We combine education, spirituality, and Native American culture to educate the whole child. Children not only receive a quality education, but also have the opportunity to attend Mass on a weekly basis to feed the spirit as well as the mind.
Once children graduate from high school, they are given ample opportunity to continue their education. St. Labre graduates, who might otherwise be unable to attend college, are given supplemental scholarships to attend colleges or vocational schools of their choice. Some of our students have taken advantage of this opportunity and returned to work as teachers, nurses, administrators and in various positions of leadership within their communities. In addition, St. Labre has established a mentoring program to aid our students in the critical transition from high school to college.