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November 17th, 2014
11:44 PM ET

Keeping Them Honest: Is a South Dakota school using "poverty porn" to raise money? 

“My dad drinks and hits me … my mom chose drugs over me … my home on the reservation isn’t a safe place for me to be.”

That is a plea for donations sent to millions of people and has helped raise millions of dollars for  St. Joseph's Indian School in Chamberlain, South Dakota. The mailers attribute those words to a young boy named Josh Little Bear, but he does not exist.

St. Joseph's Director of Development acknowledges “The name 'Josh Little Bear' is fictitious,” he wrote, “but unfortunately his story is not.” But the Vice President of a nearby reservation says the school's fundraising material "make the Indians look bad." The President of the First Nations Development Institute even calls it "poverty porn."

Senior Investigative Correspondent Drew Griffin traveled to the school and he is Keeping Them Honest.

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Filed under: Charity Investigation • CNN Investigations • Drew Griffin
soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. bighawkr1

    You are correct, I live in this community and they are shady as heck, look at the president, by the way check those wages, over 55-60 percent spent on no programs like 30 mill. They also fundraise by saying they need $150,000 for shoes or coats, what they don't say is that's a two day goal. the 51 mil does not include the for profit store they have so add another 10%. SHUT THEM DOWN!!

    November 24, 2014 at 5:38 pm |
  2. bloodymurderbooks

    "The boy is fictitious." Maybe his name was changed to protect him from reprisals? I don't see a whole lot of investigation in this story and I also don't see any mention of how much money the school spends on its students per year.

    The phrase "poverty porn" is utterly disgusting.

    November 22, 2014 at 3:38 pm |
  3. burritt8121

    First off I want to introduce my self as Fire Controlman 3rd Class Petty Officer William Burritt, and I am a previous student from Saint Joesph's. This school should not be in the headlines for accuring x amount money, but for the opportunities it brings to its students. These opportunities include providing the basics food, healthcare, clothing, to many extras. These extras include a swimming pool, indoor basketball court, taking the homes on trips to Rapid City for the Lakota Nation Invitational, or to Sioux Falls to spend a weekend having fun. Not to mention providing tuxedos and dresses for senior prom or senior pictures, and that barely scratches the surface for what this school does for its students. I want to put a challenge to any parent to try cooking for 12 high school boys a night and try to keep up with that grocery bill. For any average middle class family that would take something for granted would be something that is provide to these young people by donations. I would not be where I am at and successful if not for the staff at Saint Joesph's Indian School. My parting words is do your own research on this school.

    November 19, 2014 at 10:49 pm |
  4. walman800

    Having grown up in Chamberlain, this school provides far more of a great service for everyone. Your artice says . . . The boy's stories are heartbreaking: "My dad drinks and hits me ... my mom chose drugs over me ... my home on the reservation isn't a safe place for me to be," wrote Josh Little Bear. His request seems reasonable - send a few dollars to help St. Joseph's Indian School to keep "kids like me safe ... so we don't have to live this way anymore." . . ..

    We'll you do not have to be a Native American Indian to grow up in a family like this, do you. Every race and American knows someone who's father beat them and who's mother does drinks too much and drugs and who's parents are just as bad as in this story.

    Where is the follow up to your story on the children that are now in college and in the real world? What happens to these children once they leave Chamberlain, SD? Why not find this out and ask those people.

    You are really barking up the wrong tree here guys, go after the people that raise money and have nothing to show for it except fancy new cars and fancy homes and a large bank account. Did you find any wrong doing by the people at St. Joseph's? Are they hiding from the IRS or are they living a simple and quite live on the banks of the Missouri River, peacefully hunting and fishing and enjoying life.

    Go and tell us about the abuse of the people that are committing crimes with their fund rising.

    Oh, is Boy's Town in Omaha up next?

    Dale W Saukerson

    November 18, 2014 at 4:46 pm |
  5. bpuharic

    I was a seminarian with a Catholic religious order associated with this school, the Sacred Heart Fathers (SCJ) mentioned as being 'headquartered in Wisconsin'. The SCJ's Provincial offices are in Hales Corners, WI at the Sacred Heart Monastery.

    CNN missed a BIG story here. They should check out the history of Father William Pitcavage, SCJ and his relationship with the students at the school. Much of Pitcavage's relationship is already detailed on the internet, and can be found by googling his name.

    There's FAR more to this story than just money

    November 18, 2014 at 9:08 am |

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