More than 100,000 Native children in the US were enrolled in off-reservation boarding schools. Parents who refused to give up their children were imprisoned and their children were forcibly taken away. The first school was founded in 1879 by Richard Pratt, an army officer, who based the system off a school he developed for a prison in Florida. The schools were funded by Congress and run by churches and missionary societies. Pratt mandated that the children be taken far from their homes at an early age and not returned until they were young adults. In the boarding schools boys were taught menial labor and girls housework. They were forced to convert to Christianity, embrace Western culture, and speak only English. Native languages and traditions were prohibited and severely punished. Children were subjected to physical, emotional, and sexual abuse by the priests and nuns in charge. Torture was used to punish native language use; children were involuntarily sterilized and died of disease, beating, poisoning, hanging, starvation, strangulation, and medical experimentation. By the 1930s most off-reservation boarding schools were closed, but today boarding schools still exist within reservations. (Smith 35Ð40)DIRECT EFFECTS
The children and young adults in the Native American communities were lost for generations, at a crucial age for learning and embracing one's culture and traditions. As a result, Native culture and language have struggled, fighting colonization of both the body and the mind. Without Native parental and community role models, students were ill-equipped to rejoin tribal society. (Smith 43) These events also contributed to the trickling down of abuse through even more generations, as well as a rise in alcoholism in the communities. Child sexual abuse rates have dramatically increased on reservations while remaining stable for the general population. (Smith 39)WHY IT MATTERS
It's important to remember this was done in the name of "good". In his time, Pratt was seen as a "friend" to the Indian. He favored assimilation over extermination, cultural genocide over physical genocide. "A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one. In a sense, I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead.
Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.
Kill the Indian in him, and save the man." (Pratt). Today people do many things, especially in volunteer opportunities overseas, in the name of good. It's worth taking a closer look at the real and lasting consequences of these actions and making an effort to really understand others rather than taking a patronizing standpoint in relations. Developing this understanding would push us toward a place where we would not allow atrocities like these boarding schools to exist.
Investigate American supremacy. These days it is not uncommon for people to stand behind the idea of America without really understanding all that we stand for. It's time we take a second look at the history lessons we learned back in high school. The US does not have clean hands, as much as we'd like to think so. We need to recognize the real lessons to be learned and take them to heart if we don't want history to repeat itself.
- NPR: American Indian Boarding Schools Haunt Many, story by Charla Bear
- Smith, Andrea. Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide. Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2005. Print