Why is it important that we acknowledge and even study about the existence and the abuses of the Indian Boarding Schools?
- We cannot build any kind of future on a foundation of lies. Some children, thank goodness, had some positive experiences at some Boarding Schools. However, the secrecy and manipulation that surrounded the entire initiative to assimilate Indian children (“Kill the Indian in the child”) damaged and still affect possibilities for future collaborations between First Nations and any institutions or organizations of the dominant culture. Trust cannot be rebuilt unless the whole truth is told, full responsibility is taken and those responsible are held accountable. Furthermore, we can never find remedies for problems, unless we first examine and understand the nature of those problems. We cannot transform something without first acknowledging that it exists..
- Knowing the truth of this travesty gives a context for the devastation experienced in many Indian families and communities for the last several generations. While similar social ills are present in every community, the lasting effects experienced by any who were taken or those who know and love someone who was kidnapped, tortured and held against their will makes the mental health, domestic violence, drug abuse and fractured family issues within Indian communities more understandable. It is important not to give credence to those who would re-stereotype First Nations (“Oh, that’s why ‘they’ are that way…”), but to put responsibility on those who caused the widespread need for these coping mechanisms and insist that the demands from the Indian nations for more mental and physical health resources, adequate housing, superior education and such be met..
- The unimaginable scope of this tragic chapter in U.S. and Canadian history should put an end to any minimizing of the Indian experience. Sometimes, the planned genocide of Indian people is dismissed as if a card game has ended: “You lost; get over it.” The Truth and Reconciliation Hearings in South Africa, Canada and other countries have shown that healing is dependent on the WHOLE story being witnessed and heard. It supports the victims in their grief process, gives them the validation and exposure of the perpetrator they seek and helps them understand and accept the unquenchable longing for all that was lost. In an article by Judith Lewis Herman entitled “Justice from the Victim’s Perspective”, Herman states, “Community denunciation of the crime was of great importance to the survivors because it affirmed the solidarity of the community with the victim and transferred the burden of disgrace from victim to offender.”.
- In addition, acknowledging these crimes makes it possible for the descendants of the perpetrators and for those of us who have benefited from white skin privilege to acknowledge what we may have indirectly gained because of this planned genocide. For example, I may not have direct dealings in the fact that people’s lands were taken or that others were forced into labor camps. We are never at fault for what happened in the past. This is not about good and bad people. Most of us are good people who would never knowingly hurt others. It is about understanding that any wealth or advantages that come my way are not simply because my ancestors “worked” hard but acknowledging that my position in life is attached to an inheritance in blood. Again, this realization is not to make us walk around guilty and impotent. Owning the whole truth can make us powerful allies, open to taking part in the need for reparations and any other acts of justice that can begin to tackle the need for redress..
- When one group seeks to conquer another, their repertoire of repression is all too similar. When any culture or country is colonized by another, children become part of the playbook for take-over and are easy pawns in the game. In the 1650s, when England was colonizing Ireland, during one decade, over 100,000 Irish children were taken from their parents and sold as slaves in the West Indies, Virginia and New England. In Australia, aboriginal children were stolen from their homes from 1909 to 1969. As recent as the 1950s, 22 of Greenland’s children were sent to Denmark for the start of a larger experiment to create an elite-group of Danish-thinking Greenlanders who could go back to Greenland and affect (or infect) the education and other institutions there. Again and again, this belief in the superiority of one group over another and the foisting of its ways upon the oppressed group fails, but leaves in its wake a terrible legacy of death and destruction (half of those 22 Greenland children were dead by their early twenties). Knowing about the Indian boarding schools, unfortunately, gives us a quick, shorthand understanding of the challenges facing oppressed groups around the world..
- Learning and teaching about the Indian Boarding Schools also gives us a context to celebrate and be inspired by all the ways Indian people have survived and even thrived given all the genocidal attempts on their communities. The Boarding Schools unwittingly created lifelong intertribal friendships and a new spirit of Pan-Indianism into this century. American Indians have and are accomplishing notable contributions in every field of endeavor throughout the Americas. The fact that so many Indian children and adults were able to call on a spirit inside of them that could not be extinguished, no matter what was happening to them externally, provides a testament to human strength and to a nurturing, indwelling grace that can inspire all of us.
“Encyclopedia of American Indian Contributions to the World: 15,000 Years of Inventions and Innovations” by Emory Dean Keoke and Kay Marie Porterfield