The relationship between the United States and Indigenous populations has been built on broken promises for the theft of Native land, culture, and identity. Treaty-making practices and governmental policies have forced this inequitable relationship that has resulted in sanctioned ethnic cleansing and cultural genocide.
The operation of Indian Boarding Schools remains one of the core intergenerational atrocities that continues to impact Indigenous communities, families, and individuals to this day. Alongside the government, religious institutions remain in control of these schools and many within these entities are guilty of abusing Indigenous children. These Indian Boarding Schools were not academic institutions, but instead militarized, labor-intensive concentration camps, established to eradicate all vestiges of Indian culture, nothing more than ethnic cleansing hidden under the disguise of doing “good” for the American people. In these institutions, Native children were taught that the genocide of their People was a benefit to them, and the only other option to assimilation into predominant “White Culture” was death and damnation.
To understand this relationship and these intergenerational traumas, we must look at the history, policy and institutions that directly committed and contributed to the mass genocide of American Indians and Alaska Natives. Much of this policy revolves around the formation and function of Indian Boarding Schools, one of the most devastating assaults on Indigenous populations since disease ravaged tens of thousands of Natives upon initial European contact in the Americas. Following policy eras of Conquest (1492-1780) and Treaty-Making (1790-1849), Assimilation Era (1850-1921) provided the environment for the forced imprisonment of Native children and sought to strip them of their cultural identity.
“Kill the Indian, save the Man.” This is the prevailing motto of Army Officer Richard Henry Pratt’s Indian Boarding Schools that were opened in the 1860’s that further solidified the pervasive ideology of Manifest Destiny−an ideology utilized by Adolf Hitler to justify Germany’s “God-given right” of expansion during WWII. This is the same ideology Adolf Hitler utilized when forming Concentration Camps, which Hitler gained the notion of from studying how the United States Federal Government formed the Reservation System to “deal with the Indian Problem.” This ideology, this doctrine of belief that sited the expansion of the United States throughout the American continents as both justified and inevitable, was utilized as a weapon of mass genocide both in Europe and in the United States. This ideology is still being used to justify past horrors and atrocities committed against Indigenous populations to this day.
As both the Meriam Report (1928) and “The Declaration of Indian Purpose” (1961) clearly outlined, historically there have been many shortcomings and broken promises on behalf of the United States Federal Government in relation to American Indian and Alaska Native populations. Perhaps one of the most pervasive and damaging disclosures of these reports are the undeniable truth concerning the horrendous and inhumane implementation and condition of Indian Boarding Schools. As stated in the Meriam Report, "The survey staff finds itself obligated to say frankly and unequivocally that the provisions for the care of the Indian children in boarding schools are grossly inadequate." Even with these and subsequent governmental findings, Indian Boarding Schools remained open and unchanged. The last Residential Schools in Canada were not “closed” until 1996, while the last Indian Boarding Schools in the United States were not “closed” until 1983. During this period, the Indian Child Welfare Act was passed in 1978, which restored Indigenous parents’ legal right to deny the placement of their children in these off-reservation schools. Prior to this act being passed, Indigenous parents were unable to refuse federal and religious officials who came to kidnap their babies, watching helplessly as their loved ones were ripped away from them, their communities and their homes. For over a hundred and thirty-six years, Native children were wrenched away from their parents, some barely 3 years of age, and forced into environments of brutality, isolation and assimilation. These institutions and efforts were supported and aided by many of the local Churches and Missionaries, who had a substantial hand in the abuse, assault and atrocities suffered by Indigenous children kidnapped from their families and forced into servitude. Holy men and governmental officials alike were both active and complicit in the sexual assault and psychological torture of these children.
The Canadian Government in recent years has admitted that the majority of children in Canadian Residential Schools suffered sexual abuse. In addition to the horror of rape and molestation, many of the children in these institutions were also forced to undergo sterilization procedures that removed their sexual organs. The Sexual Sterilization Act of Alberta, Canada passed in 1928 and while just less than 2.5% of the total population for Alberta was Indigenous at the time, Indigenous people made up 25% of the total federally forced sterilization cases. This eugenics movement was also present in the United States, with the main aim being to rid North America of “undesirables” and “half-breeds” as well as those considered to be “criminal,” “insane,” “Imbecilic,” “feeble-minded,” blind, deaf and diseased. These policies and practices further promoted the ideology of purifying the race through eugenics as well as the elimination of the Indigenous race through mass genocide, an ideology that was heavily utilized to justify the existence of Indian Boarding Schools and the cruelties that occurred therein. The Church was and continues to be predominantly in control of the operation of these schools, and many within these institutions are guilty of abusing Native children whose care they were charged with. Yet these Residential Schools did so much more than break the body, mind and spirit of these helpless children, it broke the most sacred and fundamental of all human ties: the bond between a child and their parents. This intergenerational trauma lives on and is carried by every member of the Native community. No tools, no coping mechanisms could possibly be enough in dealing with the immense distress of the separation of a parent from a child−a separation practice that was allowed to continue into the late 1990’s and was in fact championed by the federal government and the Church as an effective weapon in the total destruction of Indian Culture.
These perpetual wounds have been torn open with the discoveries of the 215 children at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in BC, the 751 unmarked graves near the former Marieval Residential School on the Cowessess First Nation, SK, the 104 children found in Brandon, MB, the 161 unmarked graves in Fort Providence, NWT, the 35 children found in Muskowekwan, SK, the 182 unmarked graves in Ktunaxa Nation, BC, over 160 children found in Penelakut, SK, the 35 unmarked graves in Regina, SK, the 34 children found out of the 73 reported to have been missing in Dunbow, AB, the 74 unmarked graves in Battlefort, SK and the 80 children found in Winnipeg, MB. The bodies of more than 5,043 Indigenous children have been uncovered in federal Canadian investigations to date. Federal investigations into the United States Residential Schools will reveal similar results−mass unmarked graves and the bodies of hundreds, thousands, of Native children purloined from their parents and this world−graves that replaced playgrounds as the image that these Native children saw from their school windows. In non-federal investigations, we have already confirmed the remains of the bodies of 227 children in Mt. Pleasant, MI, 189 children in Carlisle, PA, 21 children in Grand Junction, CO, 21 children buried near the facility with an estimate of over 30 more that have yet to be found in Rapid City, SD, 103 children in Haskell, KS, 200 children in Carson City, NV, the 222 children in Chemawa, OR, the 67 children in Newkirk, OK and the 67 children in Riverside, CA. Before federal investigations have even truly started in the United States we have already discovered the bodies of over 1,079 stolen souls. How many more are missing?
The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition (NABSC) lists 367 Indian Boarding Schools in 29 States assisted by 14 separate religious denominations. There are 73 Indian Boarding Schools that still remain open and operating today, with 15 Schools still boarding. How many schools are not on the list of NABSC? To provide one example; the School was Good Shepherd Mission at Ft. Defiance. As the word school was not listed as part of it’s name, it has flown under the radar and not been classified as an Indian Boarding School. The Mission started as a chapel/hospital and eventually established the Indian Boarding School and an orphanage. The Outing System, which was responsible for sending American Indian children to White families to act as servants, benefitted heavily from the ease of access to kidnapped and orphaned children being confined in these schools. Although only about 20% of these orphans were actually orphans−and it must be acknowledged that these Indian Boarding Schools were the only form of financial and educational support they had as they truly were without parents−this small “kindness” of providing shelter and food does not absolve the guilty parties or crimes committed against each and every child present at these institutions. This “mission” was not alone in avoiding classification as an Indian Boarding School, and many “shelters,” “orphanage facilities,” “chapels” and “medical facilities” or “hospitals” were in fact nothing more than devious concealments hiding the real revulsions of Indian Boarding Schools behind the facades of socially accepted institutions and organizations.
How many children, how many babies, were adopted out−never to know who they really are? More stolen souls... This school is not the only one that is missing from the count, and those that are must be acknowledged and take accountability for their role in the ethnic cleansing of an entire People.
No child should be forcibly removed from their parents. No community should have its families shattered and torn apart. No People should undergo the devastation of having their culture, their ancestral land, their names, their hair, their language, their tradition, their peace, their sovereignty, their lives ripped away from them while they are forced into silence, forced into submission. It was not an uncommon practice for the United States Federal Government to refuse to provide food and supplies to Native communities who refused to send their children to death camps. It was not uncommon for Native children to be taken from their front yards, their streets, their homes−ripped from the grasp of their helpless parents. It was not uncommon for Native children to be beaten, starved, used as scientific experiments, sexually sterilized and raped at Indian Boarding Schools. Many are now just discovering the horrid truth all in the Native community have known since the inception of these Schools−it was not uncommon for children to be killed, buried and utilized as an example to their fellow classmates that they too would be killed to save the “Man.” Indigenous children within these schools were used as experimental subjects and “livestock” for food and pharmaceutical studies, further dehumanizing them. Young women and girls who had children due to rape in these Boarding schools had their babies wrenched from their bodies and tossed into the incinerators. If ever a Native child forgot who controlled their life or death, they simply had to look outside at the countless graves of their People that surrounded their prisons. An example of such an event occurred following a rebellion in Alberta, CA in 1885. Indigenous members of this rebellion were captured, and while a few were jailed, 8 were taken to a platform outside of the Battleford Industrial School where Native children were forced to watch as these men were hung−a lasting reminder of White Colonial power and what would happen to any child that made trouble for the Crown. Similarly in the United States, the Church, the missionaries and the Federal Government were the institutions and individuals that decided who among these stolen souls would live, who would die and who would simply disappear. Many individuals at these institutions believed “the only good Indian is a dead Indian.” Many of the individuals at both the governmental and religious institution levels are still alive today and have not been forced to answer for their crimes. These individuals are not only racist in their beliefs and ideologies, but an active threat to the safety, peace, prosperity and healing of Native communities. The CDC recently defined racism as a public health threat, and it is on this same foundation of systemic racism that the extermination and oppression of Indigenous populations has been permitted to occur. No longer can these racist policies and ideologies be allowed to persist.
A full investigation into these Indian Boarding Schools and all those individuals involved with their implementation and continued function is not only necessary, but also heinously overdue. The federal and religious organizations and individuals involved must stand a public trial and answer for their corruptions to the Native communities. A full governmental review of the existing policies allowing these crimes to be continually committed against indigenous populations must be completed immediately and in collaboration with Native Representatives. No longer can these issues be looked at from the White-Colonialist perspective, they must instead be looked at from the perspective of the individuals and communities who have survived this Holocaust. This involves giving complete and total control of all investigations and investigatory findings directly to appropriate members of the Indigenous community such as Tribal Leaders and Tribal Representatives. There is no trust between Native People and the United States Federal Government. To ensure the fair and truthful investigation into these crimes, power must be given to Native communities. Every step in this process must be both public and transparent. The proper re-writing and accurate representation of American History must be led from the Native perspective, as was similarly done concerning Germany’s history and the mass genocide of the Jewish People. We do not hire Nazi’s to write history books concerning WWII.
Similarly, it is unacceptable that for hundreds of years the United States of America’s history has been written by the oppressors, while leaving out mention of the oppressed other than to say “the oppression of these People was for their own good and the Greater Good.” There is gross negligence on the part of the United States Federal Government in ensuring history is accurately represented, Treaties are upheld and promises are kept. Please, do not allow this legacy of disillusionment to become our own. Unspeakable acts of abuse have been committed, and they continue to be committed. Dismantling of the policy and institutions allowing and participating in these crimes is essential. Bringing these individuals to justice who still live that committed these crimes is imperative. Return of sacred remains, land and property to the Native communities is undeniable. Power has been taken for hundreds of years from the indigenous community; this stolen power must be restored. The lives of the thousands of Native children lost can never be regained, can never be repaid, they can only be remembered in the deepest sorrows. It is our sole purpose to ensure they are honored, respected and remembered properly. It is our sole purpose to be the voices of those who have for too long been forced into silence.
Be the voice for these stolen souls. They were just children. Just children. We will never be able to bring them home, but you can bring their abusers to justice, you can ensure another child never suffers this same fate again. We will never be able to bring peace to the families who for generations have suffered these harrowing losses, but you can bring them hope that their voices will be heard, their stories will be told, and their resilience will be remembered. I urge you to be the catalyst that ignites true change, true healing for the Native community and the wielder of justice for those no longer with us−our brothers, our sisters, our fathers, our mothers, our daughters, our sons, our grandmothers, our grandfathers. Be the voice for all who came before us, and be the hope for all those that will come after.
Immediate cessation of these genocidal practices against Native People is inarguably necessary. However, in accordance with closing Indian Boarding Schools and the dismantlement of affiliated governmental and religious policies and practices associated with this predatory and corrupt system, justice demands reparations, restoration and reconciliation from the United States Government and Religious Institutions that have been party to the violation of the human rights of all Indigenous Peoples. Reparations are needed to begin the process of redressing these egregious injustices to those Native communities and individuals that have survived hundreds of years of mass murder, forced death marches from ancestral lands, countless extreme human sufferings, annihilation of communities and families, and the destruction of cultural, spiritual, emotional, intellectual and creative forces.
This requires all control and power over investigations and investigatory findings relating to Indian Boarding Schools in the United States of America to be given in full to Indigenous community leaders, Tribal leaders, Tribal organizations and appointed Tribal representatives. A Technical Advisory Council comprised of Indigenous community leaders, Tribal leaders and Tribal representatives, directly funded and aided in full by the United States Department of the Interior responsible for assisting in all aspects of investigations regarding Indian Boarding Schools must be immediately established. All aspects of investigations must be public and transparent−this includes the full release of all federal records to the public. Current “no-research” policies designed to block information access to all records, data and materials related to Indian Boarding Schools must be abolished and instances of data blocking/denial of access to records are to be punished under the fullest extent of the law. There is a history of documents, information and records related to governmental affairs with indigenous populations conveniently “disappearing” when called to be found; some buildings where financial records were held “caught fire,” unintentionally or intentionally destroying information (ex. Elouise Cobell v. Salazar concerning U.S. mismanagement of trust funds of over 500,000 individual American Indians). Baring this historic example in mind, there must be a full stop of destruction of all records and evidence relating to Indian Boarding Schools including records of affiliated, sponsored and involved governmental, private, public and religious institutions, policies and practices. If any individual, entity, and/or institution is found to have destroyed evidence or obstructed justice in any way throughout the investigative process, they are to be prosecuted to the fullest extent under the law.
There must be an immediate cessation of known policies and practices infringing upon and violating the basic human rights of indigenous individuals, communities and Tribes, including voting rights. A complete list of all federal and religious institutions, entities, policies, practices and individuals directly involved with the implementation, oversight and continued operation of Indian Boarding Schools is to be publicly released and updated regularly as investigations continue. A complete list of every Indian Boarding School within the United States and all affiliated Territories- including those listed under “Mission” or other disingenuous names must be compiled and publicly released posthaste. Complete accountability for every child ever taken and boarded at an Indian Boarding School including information, such as family history, Tribe/Reservation/State where the child was removed and attended an Indian Boarding School is necessary and demanded. Public trials are to be held expeditiously, as prosecution is expected for any individual who through these investigations is implicated in criminal activity.
Anthology−an accurate representation, and full rewrite from an indigenous perspective of all United States history books involving Indigenous populations−is demanded. This initiative should address all K-12 books and school curricula in which the United States has intentionally misinformed the public, and the content should reflect the human rights violations on which this country was built and continues to thrive upon. This includes accurately updating textbooks, governmental information (sites, resources, etc.) and international information (sites, resources, etc.). All human remains found−not just those found during the course of these investigations−but also of those that have been stored or put on display in museums around the world to be returned to the appropriate Tribal entities and original inhabitants as stated in all Treaties. All land that was misappropriated or corruptly stolen under the 1887 Dawes Act; and all federal land that is no longer in use, be it a park or military base, etc., is to be returned to the appropriate Tribal entities and original inhabitants as stated in all Treaties. There must be public acknowledgement and apology by both governmental and religious institutions concerning their complicity and culpability in the abuse and extermination of Native people.
Closure is often a term mentioned when overcoming tragedy. Closure in this instance is defined as any interaction, attainment of knowledge, practice or exercise that allows an individual to feel as though a traumatic, distressing, or complicating life event has been fully resolved. This term has origins in Gestalt psychology, but it is more commonly used to refer to “the final resolution to a conflict or problem.” There will never be closure, at least not in the foreseeable future, for Native communities who for generations have lived these experiences and massacres−any more than there has been closure for the Holocaust survivors and the generations that followed. What is being found at these Residential Schools in Canada, what you will find here, is only an extension of the Holocaust that Native People and indigenous populations lived through then and replays endlessly through cycles of substance abuse, addictions, generational disparities, chronic illnesses, violence, self-hatred, survivor’s guilt, cultural dissociation and unremitting grief. Disorders such as depression as well as physical and emotional traumas affect genetic function and expression, leading to generations of Indigenous populations carrying the unrelenting psychological pain of their ancestors with them and physically through them.
There are no amount of reparations that can buy-out governmental and religious organizations from their sins, no cost can be assigned to the loss of a child and the generational trauma suffered by family and community. There can be no indulgences given, no forgiveness for these brutalities. But the Indigenous community deserves the opportunity to heal.
I implore you again; be the voice for these stolen souls. Demand justice. Please, speak out for those whose laughter will never grace our ears, whose smiles we will never see shining, and whose hands we will never hold again. We cannot do this alone, so today, I ask you for your help. Will you stand with us?