A CNN investigative report was able to uncover that a private Native American boarding school in South Dakota received $51 million as a result of “poverty porn” schemed marketing.
According to the Daily Mail, every year St. Joseph’s Indian School sends out more than 30 million packets depicting “sob stories” to mailing addresses all across the United States with the intention of receiving donations.
“They are raising money in the name of Indians, using the worst of poverty porn of all Indian country to raise money on all our social ills,” said Michael Roberts, president of the First Nations Development Institute.
“Poverty Porn” is a term deemed for marketing schemes that seek to profit off of falsified stories depicting children in need.
St. Joseph’s Indian School has justified their actions by saying that while the specific characters in the cited stories might be fictionalized, the stories in and of themselves are real issues that Native Americans must contend with.
Leonard Pease, vice chairman of the Crow Creek Lakota Sioux reservation, told CNN reporters that the school has consistently carried out this scam for years.
“That's how they get their money," he said. “To me, they make the Indians look bad."
Kory Christianson, the director of development at St. Josephs, was quoted as saying that the marketing techniques may have “pushed the edge.”
“The name 'Josh Little Bear' is fictitious, but unfortunately, his story is not,” Christianson said. “The letter is a true story of the very real and challenging situations that far too many children face not only in the Native American community, but in families found in every sphere of society.”
Another fictionalized character used in the mailing packet was ‘Emily High Elk’ who had allegedly been attending St. Josephs for the past year. The packet reads: “You could see the hopelessness she felt in her dark brown eyes. Now her big bright smile reveals how her life has changed.”
After obtaining financial records from the school, CNN reports that $51 million in donations were collected last year and that the schools ‘cash on hand’ equals more than $122 million.
It must be pointed out that the donations given do go to students and maintaining school facilities. However, the ethicalness of creating false ‘sob stories’ is a decent point of contention.