Cultural Genocide Veiled as Education—The Time for Healing Is Now
Turning Back A National Tragedy
In 1928 the Meriam Report on federal administration of Indian affairs concluded with respect to the boarding schools that: “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.” In 1969, the Kennedy Report declared Indian education “a national tragedy.” Teachers in 1969 still saw their role as that of “civilizing the native.”
Schools failed to “prepare students academically, socially, psychologically, or even vocationally for the urban life to which the schools directed them. As a result, many returned to their reservations disillusioned, to spend the rest of their lives in economic and intellectual stagnation.”
Those victimized in the schools, their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, have become the legacy of the boarding schools and the federal policy that established and sustained them. Many of those that returned to their communities came as wounded human beings. Denied the security and safety necessary for healthy growth and development, they retained only fractured cultural skills to connect them with their families and communities. These survivors were left with varying degrees of scars and skills, but most profoundly, of psychological subordination. Many report feeling self-hatred for being Indian; bereft of spirit, knowledge, language and social tools to reenter their own societies. With only limited labor skills, exacerbated by the subordinated spirit trained into them, too many carried undefined and unremitting anxieties that drove them to alcoholism, drug abuse, violence against their own families and communities, and suicide.
Native communities have advocated over the decades for an end to the federal boarding school policy. Despite the fact that some students at the boarding schools did thrive, still others suffered, and the success of individuals did not justify the policy of cultural genocide and could have been achieved without it. Eventually, in large part due to the impact of the Kennedy Report and tribal advocates, the policy started to turn back via passage in 1972 of the Indian Education Act and in 1975 of the Indian Self Determination and Education Assistance Act. This legislation made it possible for tribes to begin to control their own schools, and to turn back the policy of educating the Indian out of the Indian students.
Change was not immediate. The damage that has already been done over the previous century is a long way from being resolved. The nation seemed to turn its face in denial over what had happened. This prolongs the suffering, as the injuries to Native communities, families, and individuals carries on until they are healed. The first step in creating that opportunity for healing involves telling the truth about what happened; instead of turning away from the past, we must embrace it and honestly admit all that happened.
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