Cultural Genocide Veiled as Education—The Time for Healing Is Now
The Board of Indian Commissioners and the Peace Policy of 1869
The changes sought by the reformers came to fruition in the year 1869. That year marked establishment by Congress of the Board of Indian Commissioners and President Grant’s “Peace Policy,” which included a federal boarding school policy. These efforts were intended to fulfill two important goals: 1) the replacement of corrupt government officials, called the “Indian Ring,” with religious men, nominated by churches to oversee the Indian agencies on reservations; and 2) to Christianize the Native tribes and eradicate their culture and religion, primarily through removal of the children from reservation settings.
The boarding school policy authorized the voluntary and coerced removal of Native American children from their families for placement in boarding schools run by the government and Christian churches. The boarding school policy represented a shift from genocide of Indian people to a more defensible, but no less insidious, policy of cultural genocide—the systematic destruction of indigenous communities through the removal and reprogramming of their children. This approach was thought to be less costly than wars against the tribes or eradication of Native populations.
The first appointments to the Board of Indian Commissioners were male Protestants. This remained the case until two Roman Catholics were appointed in 1902 by Theodore Roosevelt. Although not appointed as representatives of their denominations, they clearly were selected by those denominations to be appointed. This was a clear and obvious violation of the principle of separation of church and state, but none of the leaders of the day believed that principle applied in matters relating to Native Americans. The Catholics, having been initially excluded from the Board, argued fervently that the children should have the freedom to choose their religion, saying in one statement:
“The Indians have a right, under the Constitution, as much as any other person in the Republic, to the full enjoyment of liberty of conscience; accordingly they have the right to choose whatever Christian belief they wish, without interference from the Government.” (The Churches and the Indian Schools, 1888-1912, Prucha, Francis Paul, Univ. of Nebraska Press 1979) (Emphasis supplied.)
In 1872, the Board of Indian Commissioners allotted 73 Indian agencies to various denominations as follows: Methodists, 14 agencies in the Pacific Northwest (54,743 Indians); Orthodox Friends, 10 (17,724); Presbyterian, nine in the Southwest (38,069); Episcopalians, eight in the Dakotas (26,929); Catholics, seven (17,856); Hicksite Friends, six (6,598); Baptists, five in Utah, Idaho and the
Indian Territory (40,800); Reformed Dutch, five (8,118); Congregationalists, three (14,476); Christians, two (8,287); Unitarians, two (3,800); American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions in the Indian territory of Oklahoma (1,496); Lutherans, one (273).
Whatever pretense there may have been about the appointment of Christians as Commissioners, there was no mistaking that the allocation of the agencies was by Christian denominations.
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