Recently, the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition published the second edition of Healing Voices Volume 1, which is authored by our CEO, Christine Diindiisi McCleave. The following is an excerpt from this very important and informative publication:
The government of the United States had an “Indian problem.” To address it, they enlisted Christian churches and decided to remove children from our communities and our culture. They attempted to replace Tribal values, languages, and ways of knowing with dominant white Christian values, religion, culture, and language.
By 1926, nearly 83% of Indian school-age children were attending boarding schools.1 The multigenerational impact of removing children from families and communities cannot be overstated. The U.S. Indian boarding schools are directly responsible for and inextricably linked to loss of Tribal language, loss of Tribal cultural resources, and ongoing intergenerational trauma in Native communities today. In order for us to have justice, we need to begin with the truth.
TRUTH. HEALING. JUSTICE. RECONCILIATION.
Justice in Indian Country cannot be fully realized without a major shift in our national narrative. The United States government must admit and accept responsibility for its boarding school experiment and other white supremacist policies, including removal. Churches have also yet to acknowledge their role in this chapter of cultural genocide in U.S. history. Various church denominations benefited from federal funding (via the Indian Civilization Fund Act), which was used to run the Indian boarding schools across the U.S.2 It is estimated that half of all Indian boarding schools were run by churches. Most U.S. citizens do not even know of the existence of these genocidal boarding schools, let alone that they have had lasting effects on the health and well-being of Native American communities. We cannot have reconciliation before healing. In order to have healing, we must reveal the truth.
WE MUST TELL THE WHOLE TRUTH
Beginning with the Indian Civilization Fund Act of March 3, 1819, and the Peace Policy of 1869, the United States, in concert with and at the urging of several Christian denominations, adopted a boarding school policy expressly intended to implement cultural genocide through the removal and reprogramming of American Indian and Alaska Native children. The stated purpose of this policy was to “Kill the Indian, Save the Man.” The U.S. Boarding School Era emerged from the federal government’s desire to deal with the “Indian problem” by using education as a weapon. At the same time (the end of the 19th century), the U.S. hunted bison to near extinction to eliminate a major source of sustenance for Native people. One U.S. Army leader is said to have ordered his troops to “kill every buffalo you can. Every buffalo dead is an Indian gone.”3 While this effort sought to eliminate Indian nations by starving Indigenous economies, boarding schools were even more insidious. The intent was to eliminate Indians by removing all traces of Tribal cultures— language, spiritual traditions, family ties, etc. and replacing them with European Christian ideals of civilization, religion, and culture.
We still do not know how many total children were removed from their homes and families and placed in boarding schools operated by the federal government and Christian churches. However, preliminary statistics tell us that within the first twenty years of the boarding school policy, 20,000 children had already been taken from their families and placed in schools far from their homes. Only twenty-five years later, that number more than tripled, and 60,889 children were in boarding schools by 1925.4
Download the full Healing Voices Volume 1 here.