Clear Native American Culture | The week

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The United States and Canada are beginning to face their history of forcing Indigenous children into abusive residential schools. Here’s all you need to know:

What was the purpose of the school?

In other words, a cultural genocide. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the U.S. government and religious leaders used compulsory boarding schools to force young Native Americans to abandon the languages ​​and cultures of their ancestors, which were obviously seen as inferior to a Western-style Christian education. Residential schools were made compulsory for Native American children in 1891. This often meant the forced separation from their families and communities. And because these schools were underfunded, overcrowded and often unsanitary, thousands of students died of illness. Canada also forced at least 150,000 indigenous children into a residential school system that was mostly run by the Catholic Church; Last June, researchers discovered 1,148 anonymous graves on the grounds of three schools. US Home Secretary Deb Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo people whose maternal grandparents were forced into boarding school, has opened an investigation into US boarding school policy. “This attempt to erase indigenous identity, language and culture,” she wrote in a Washington post article, has “never been treated appropriately.”

Who ran boarding schools in the United States?

Of the 367 Native American residential schools known to have operated in the United States, the federal government operated more than half, the Catholic Church about 100, and many more were run by various Protestant denominations. In 1879, the first off-reserve public school was founded by Richard Henry Pratt, an army general who had overseen the education of Native American prisoners of war. The first 86 students recruited for the Carlisle Indian School in Carlisle, Pa., Were Lakota Sioux. Pratt convinced the Lakota leaders that education was essential to the survival of their people, but later wrote that he planned to make children “hostages for the good behavior of their people.” Pratt rejected then popular notions of white biological superiority, but he said his mission for every student was to “kill the Indian in him and save man”.

How was the life of the students?

They were basically treated like prisoners. Upon arrival at school, boys ‘and girls’ long hair – which had deep spiritual significance to many indigenous peoples – was usually cropped. The children were forced to shed their traditional clothes and take on English names. Years later, the new students were sprayed with DDT. They were prohibited from speaking their own language, and the prohibition was often enforced with corporal punishment. In public and faith-based schools, physical and sexual abuse was rife. Students were required to do daily manual labor, and instead of being allowed to return home, students were often sent on summer “outings” to local white families, where they worked as farm laborers or domestic workers for little or nothing. no salary. Due to limited indoor plumbing in dormitories and poor ventilation, infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, influenza and smallpox spread rapidly. Carlisle student Luther Standing Bear recalled the deaths of nearly half of his Lakota classmates. In some institutions, students had to make coffins for their classmates in the school’s carpentry workshops.

Was there any resistance?

Escapes were so common that some schools offered bonuses for returning runaways. Many parents have also resisted sending their children, although the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs may refuse food to those who refuse to comply. In 1894, the Hopi residents of what is now Arizona fought armed soldiers in an attempt to keep their children at home. “Our children were forcibly taken away,” a Hopi leader later recalled. “They were dragged out of the fields, rocks and their homes, and if they were hiding, they were shot. Eventually, 19 Hopi men were arrested and sent to Alcatraz.

When did the schools close?

In the 1960s and 1970s, the Pan-Indian movement claimed the right to a self-determined education; finally, in 1978, the Indian Child Welfare Act abolished compulsory boarding school education. Most of the remaining boarding schools closed soon after, but 15 schools still have boarders, with changed educational goals.

How is this story approached?

Haaland has asked the Home Office to make a final report next April. Last month, the Sicangu Lakota of South Dakota successfully returned the remains of nine deceased children and adolescents to Carlisle. In 2008, the Jesuits paid $ 5 million to 16 people who reported being sexually assaulted by clergy at a Washington state boarding school. So far, the Vatican has not issued a formal apology for the church’s mistreatment of indigenous children in Catholic boarding schools. The U.S. government also failed to issue a specific apology for the forced boarding: a 2020 congressional bill that would have created a truth and reconciliation commission died in committee. Native American survivors and activists say the work to reckon with this chapter in American history has only just begun. “This is not some sort of isolated history chapter,” said University of Iowa historian Jacki Thompson Rand, a member of the Choctaw Nation. “We’re all still paying for it.”

The scars of family separation

Upon graduation, boarding school students often found themselves estranged from their people, unable to speak their language and lacking essential life skills. Traumatized and ashamed, many fell into poverty and drug addiction, which hampered their ability to raise their own children; native people who were once separated from their parents often saw their children become wards of the state. Prior to the Indian Child Welfare Act, according to a report by the Association on American Indian Affairs, more than a quarter of Native American children in the country had been taken from their parents for the safety of the children, often to be placed in non-residential households. indigenous. In states like Minnesota, South Dakota, and Montana, Indigenous children are still disproportionately represented in the foster care system. “You have all of these people who have been subjected to extreme abuse and neglect,” said Sioux writer and former tribal judge Ruth Hopkins. “You have people who haven’t really learned how to parent properly.”

This article first appeared in the latest issue of The week magazine. If you want to read more, you can try six risk-free issues of the magazine. here.


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