LETTER FROM SAN FRANCISCO
In Indian tribes, when it comes to trauma, it always comes back to boarding schools. The forced schooling of children by white society, for the purpose of assimilation, during more than the first half of the 20thand century. Not everyone had the same experience. We happened to meet in Monument Valley (Utah) a Navajo doctor who did not complain. He felt that being removed from a tattered family and educated in a US government boarding school enabled him to pursue a college education in the 1970s. He is not alone in his generation.
But for the majority of native Americans, boarding schools are symbolic of American society’s attempts to dissolve Native American culture, even at the cost of cultural genocide. In boarding schools, children were forced to dissociate themselves from the traditions of their tribe. They were forbidden to speak their language, their hair was shaved and their name changed to an English name. If they did not comply with these rules, they were beaten, whipped, deprived of food or placed in solitary confinement.
It took a Native American woman accessing the American government – Deb Haaland, of the Pueblo Laguna tribe, the first to the post of Minister of the Interior, appointed in early 2021 by Joe Biden – for the United States to finally embark on a introspective work on the abuses committed in residential schools until the 1970s, when President Richard Nixon ended the policy of termination (dissolution) of reserves. In June 2021, the minister used the pretext that Canada had discovered the remains of 215 indigenous children in Kamloops, British Columbia, to launch a national inquiry into residential schools in the United States.
A first report was published on Wednesday May 11 by the Department of the Interior. It reveals that more than 500 children died in these educational institutions whose purpose was to “ kill the Indian to save the man”according to the formula of Captain Richard Pratt, founder of the Carlisle Indian school in Pennsylvania, the pilot establishment of forced assimilation and the most feared.
About fifty cemeteries identified
The report counted 408 schools in 37 states, run by the government or by publicly funded religious organizations, between 1819, when the Indian Civilization Funding Act was passed, and 1969. About 50 cemeteries were been identified, on or near school grounds. The report stresses that the figures are not definitive and that a much higher number of victims is to be expected, as the investigation continues.
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