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

The systematic destruction of indigenous cultures and communities through the removal and reprogramming of Native children

Boarding schools located far from homelands were initiated when 2nd Lieutenant Richard Pratt founded the Carlisle Indian School in 1879 in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The fundamental principle was that Native Americans must be taught to reject tribal culture and adapt to white society; famously saying his goal was to “kill the Indian, in order to save the man.” This initiative called for the removal of children from family and community, voluntarily when possible, by coercion if necessary. Parents were threatened with the loss of provisions—which almost certainly meant starvation—or even jail for withholding children.

Nineteen Hopi men were designated as “hostiles” by the U.S. Army on November 25, 1894 and incarcerated in Alcatraz “until they shall evince, in an unmistakable manner, a desire to cease interference with the plans of the government for the civilization and education of its Indian wards.” They had opposed the forced removal and education of their children.

Children were held in isolation in regimented and sterile settings. Separated from their homes and communities, they were placed in dormitory settings fashioned after the military model where they were controlled, trained, neglected and abused. They were punished for speaking their native languages, banned from acting in any way representative of traditional or cultural practices, stripped of traditional clothing, hair and all things and behaviors reflective of their cultures. They were intentionally and systematically inculcated with shame for being Indian through ridicule of their religions and their life-ways; shame that became internalized as self-loathing and emotional disenfranchisement for their own cultures.

Before. Carlisle Indian Industrial School group from Arizona and Florida upon arrival at school. (SPC Sw Apache 02089900. National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution)

For many of the girls and boys, the only touch they received from the small population of adults stationed at the schools, were the beatings or, perhaps worse, forced sexual contact with adults, or older students who themselves had been victims. Kept at the boarding school year-round, many grew up solely in the company of other children, under the control of a few adults, who shared the perception that their wards were savages and heathens to be managed, tamed and “civilized.”

Systemic institutional neglect and the fear of death from persistent mortalities motivated many students to run away. At Carlisle Indian School in the years from 1883 through 1918 there were 1,842 desertions and nearly 500 deaths; ranging between 3.5 and 4.5 times the national average at that time. Capture after running away—the only desperate act within the power of the children and teens—was punished by physical restraints, beatings, and isolation in unlighted cellars and unlighted and unventilated outbuildings designed as jails.

After. Carlisle Indian Industrial School group of boys and girls from Arizona and Florida after three years at school. (SPC Sw Apache 02090000. National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution)

Before long, there were some 500 boarding schools in 18 states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin. As late as 1973, there were still 60,000 American Indian children enrolled in off-reservation schools.

Reports include the disappearance of children born to boarding school students as the result of rape. Unaccounted for thousands of children died from disease, malnutrition, loneliness and abuse. Survivors reported that many of the dead were buried anonymously, some in mass graves, on the grounds of the residential schools. The remains of these children have never been returned to their families or communities.

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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
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
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
Submitted by 100IndigenousAm... on

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!

Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
(from the article): 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. ___________________________________________________________ Natives are well-acquainted with the meme, "Kill the Indian to save the man." The simple fact is that neither the U.S. Government nor the "Christian" churches involved will EVER admit to any wrongdoing. The truth hurts (Natives know this already) and the truth is these organizations don't think they owe anyone an apology because (in their mind) they were doing God's work. __________________________________________________________ This is just another reason I don't worship the God of the Europeans. If they had done as much good in His name as they have bad EVERYONE would be a Christian. _______________________________________________________-- To Two Bears Growling: Hey! It's good to see you still posting. I lost your email. Write me a let me know how you're doing.