NAA INV 06828200. National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution
Carlisle Indian Industrial School American Indian girls in school uniform exercising inside gymnasium in 1879.

Cultural Genocide Veiled as Education—The Time for Healing Is Now

Native American Rights Fund
6/22/14

Like a lot of the details of United States historical relations with the indigenous inhabitants of this land, the story of Indian boarding school policy of the United States government has largely been written out of the history books. Yet, this was a major federal policy. And it had major impacts, positive and negative, on indigenous individuals, families, and communities. These impacts are still felt to this day. In retrospect, the policy was based on flawed thinking—despite the fact that it was clothed in at least the appearance of good intention. The flawed basis of the policy was that the all-out elimination of what is uniquely “Native,” and full-scale assimilation into the dominant society of the United States, was required in order to ensure the survival of individuals of Native descent. The policy was, at its core, a policy of cultural genocide.

The negative impacts of the cultural genocide persist today. United States Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin Gover, Pawnee, observed in 2000, when reflecting on the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ involvement in the policy:

“The trauma of shame, fear and anger has passed from one generation to the next, and manifests itself in the rampant alcoholism, drug abuse, and domestic violence that plague Indian country. Many of our people live lives of unrelenting tragedy as Indian families suffer the ruin of lives by alcoholism, suicides made of shame and despair, and violent death at the hands of one another.”

Carlisle Indian Industrial School American Indian boys in school uniform exercising inside gymnasium in 1879. (NAA INV 06828200. National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution)

Once it is admitted that the policy was flawed and harmful, steps can begin to be taken to allow for healing. In fact, there are many models and examples of how healing can be accomplished when one culture or society harms another.

Universally, those models of healing, of reconciliation, require recognition of what happened and who was responsible as a first step. In this case, the United States and major Christian church denominations are implicated as most responsible. Beyond that, however, the details remain to be sorted out, as will be explained.

Beginning to create the circumstances in which healing can occur will require the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), along with many others working in the area, to turn back institutionalized ignorance of what happened, to dismantle legal blockades constructed long ago and being constructed anew to protect individuals and institutions from legal and financial responsibility, and to simply begin to uncover the truth of what has happened. NARF is proud and excited to have recently upped its efforts in this area—creating a groundbreaking effort to create the space for our Native nations to begin to heal from the boarding school policy. As an integral part of the healing process, this will also allow the United States and others involved in implementation of the policy over the decades the chance to heal from the damages they caused and that they suffer from as well.

Native American children were forcibly abducted from their homes and put into Christian and government run boarding schools beginning in the mid 1800s and continuing into the 1950s. This was done pursuant to a federal policy designed to “civilize” Indians and to stamp out Native cultures; a deliberate policy of ethnocide and cultural genocide. Cut off from their families and culture, the children were punished for speaking their Native languages, banned from conducting traditional or cultural practices, shorn of traditional clothing and identity of their Native cultures, taught that their cultures and traditions were evil and sinful, and that they should be ashamed of being Native American. Placed often far from home, they were frequently neglected or abused physically, sexually, and psychologically. Generations of these children became the legacy of the federal boarding school policy. They returned to their communities, not as the Christianized farmers that the boarding school policy envisioned, but as deeply scarred humans lacking the skills, community, parenting, extended family, language, and cultural practices of those raised in their cultural context.

There has been scant recognition by the U.S. federal government and church denominations that initiated and carried out this policy, and no acceptance of responsibility for the indisputable fact that its purpose was cultural genocide. There are no apparent realistic legal avenues to seek redress or healing from the deep and enduring wounds inflicted both on the individuals and communities of tribal nations. Lawsuits by individuals have been turned aside, and unlike other countries that implemented similar policies—e.g. Canada, New Zealand and Australia—there has been no official U.S. proposal for healing or reconciliation.

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Two Bears Growling's picture
Two Bears Growling
Submitted by Two Bears Growling on
Why would anyone want to make up with among the greatest abusers, murderers & systematic destruction of our Native Peoples? That is insane. They have proved time after time you can NEVER trust anything the government or even these churches ever has to say. Sorry isn't ever going to be near good enough for any of our People. Not ever! ......................................................................................................................... There is no amount of money, gifts or promises than can ever replace what our many Peoples have lost. So many lost their culture, tribal identity, language skills, religious practices & beliefs, family histories, abilities to love & trust others, everything that made us who WE used to be as proud Peoples, communities & families. ......................................................................................................................... I remember an old saying my elders told me decades ago that went like this: First time, shame on you. Second time, same on me! However, OUR People have been taken advantage of time after time. We may choose to forgive these murderers, abusers & offenders of our People, but I can assure you we will NEVER forget what they have done to our People. I, for one, will always keep my eyes on those who murdered, abused, stole from & raped my ancestors. Trust them? I don't think so!

andre's picture
andre
Submitted by andre on
Excellent article that captures the height and longevity of European colonial abuses. It's also helps to know that despite treaties and rhetoric that are in place even today. The goals of this colonization force are still at work. When one realizes that talk is cheap and the colonizers and their descendants have plenty of it. The results and aftermath we see and deal with today are easily explained. Natives are still dealing with the institutional racism and exclusion of what is now America and it is for them my heart will always ache. So much of this inhumanity to mankind is exemplified by the legacies we see in America's reservations today. Least we ever forget what has been done. But learn the truth by it's existence. Andre Leonard,

SpottedCorn's picture
SpottedCorn
Submitted by SpottedCorn on
This is the response I posted on my Face Book page recently after reading this article: Alberta Mason via Indian Country Today Media Network The time is long past for the Native community to stand up and be counted. The healing process needs to begin within. As well meaning as non-Natives may be, we have to recognize that we have our own power to heal ourselves. We cannot not rely on those who do not share our paradigm. Then, and only then, can we reach out to help heal past, present, and future generations. We cannot allow others to define who or what we are. The concept is, if they don't understand us and we make them afraid, then as a defense for their own peace of mind, they feel it necessary to make us like themselves. We and our children are constantly being forced to accommodate through assimilation. I am a Navajo and my people were constantly looking for what they thought was good that would best serve them and their community. They borrowed from their neighbors and made it their own. This process is called acculturation. Pick and choose what you think is best for you and your family and loved ones and incorporate them into your lives. We need to stop thinking of ourselves as victims and remember the Beauty Way, which is not merely a way of life but more accurately, a state of being, so that, no matter what era we live in or what lifestyle we choose, we maintain the sacred state of Hozho. They cannot give us the balance and harmony our ancestors lived by. We need to remember and respect our culture, traditions and the wisdom of our elders. For the sake of our children and our People, past, present and future . . . may the healing begin.

100IndigenousAmerican's picture
100IndigenousAm...
Submitted by 100IndigenousAm... on
AHEM, AMEN.

Wanbli Koyake's picture
Wanbli Koyake
Submitted by Wanbli Koyake on
Hau mitakuyepi, Greetings my Relatives, Pilamaya, I thank you for the article, Cultural Genocide Veiled as Education—The Time for Healing Is Now. Speaking as a so-called “Boarding School Survivor” I have to say that NARF’s call for healing sounds more like apologia than manifesto. I personally am leery of anything with the word “healing” because western medical or even religious institutions have proven themselves incapable of such caring power; they certainly know how to fuck people up and then make money off their victim’s need for comfort and healing. My ancestors’ Lifeway is the only thing that has helped me to alleviate my the ongoing trauma of my Life. Frankly, it is not my concern, nor should the People care whether or not the wasicu/greedy ever heal. If they feel the need to heal, as criminally insane megalomaniacs, they’ll make an overture through one of their wise men –oh, wait, they don’t have any! As it is the Genocide thing is working out quite well for them, it’s become a false flag issue that essentially has served only to deflect attention from the greedy by indicting formerly colonized non-white Peoples. I fail to see how euphemizing Genocide as “Boarding School Policy” meets our ancestor’s standards for making Peace which would necessarily begin with Telling It Straight! In my struggle to make sense of the countless layers of trauma that I carried, I had to see past these innocuous technocratic terms that have softened, normalized, even naturalized, the unspeakable, unimaginable, evil-doing of the Church and State and their minion The American Dreamer. Fortunately, through my work as an artist, I’d been invited to participate in an exhibit about historical experiences of Holocaust, to tell of our experience with genocide. This affirming recognition from the Jewish professor who organized the exhibit truly moved me to study genocide as a fact of Life, as a malevolent force of human nature. For a straightforward explanation of what constitutes crimes of Genocide read The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG) which was adopted by the U.N. in 1948. There is no statute of limitations for such crimes against humanity. The U.S. is a signatory to that treaty but of course we Original Peoples (long targeted for genocide) know that only means it’s already broken. The humanity of the CPPCG preamble of signifies that the wasicu know exactly what evil has been done in the name of western civilization’s progress. The U.S. will never allow a just application of this international law to U.S. Federal Indian Policy, nor will they ever admit to anything of the kind. I imagine that any settlement, monetary redress, will have the customary clause that the settlement money is not an admission of guilt or anything and that all future claims are null and void. It’s that incessant wasicu dodging of liability that obviates healing through peace-making. That and the objectification, commodification, and monopolization of peace and peace-making as seen in the wasicu establishment of the U.S. Institute of Peace. Our Lifeway, as Help, as Healing, is not dependent upon money and is not hierarchical. It’s a lot like Alcoholics Anonymous in its compassionate, down to earth, approach to helping the irredeemable redeem themselves. To all Wasicu and wasicula, Greedheads and wannabe greedheads, I recommend a Twelve-step approach; Twelve-step yourselves then come talk with us! Mitakuyepi, my Relatives, why go through the motions with dishonorable people when we can know the real thing on our own in our own way. Wowapi na wicoiye Hohecetu welo Mitakuye Owasin, My words and written words are true. All my Relations!
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