New Deal Second Class Citizens

( – promoted by navajo)

This is another entry in my New Deal pictorial series.  It just takes a roundabout route to get there.  

We start a generation before the Great Depression, as Seattle photographer Edward Curtis was traveling the west for his epic photographic record of Native Americans.  This may be the best known of his of his thousands of images, each contact printed from 14×17 inch glass plate negatives, and rendered in copper plate photogravure for limited edition publication:


It’s Cañon de Chelly in Navajo country near Chinle, AZ, photographed 1904.  There’s a lot of controversies and opinions on Curtis’s work, which might rightly be called his mission.  Or even obsession.  I’m gonna add a few opinions of my own, some context, and then bring it around to the New Deal.

Cross-posted at Docudharma and Daily Kos

Note:  Curtis’s pictures were all downloaded from the Library of Congress.  The quality of the images provided there is inconsistent:  they’re all dark (some moreso than others), and the color tone of the pictures varies from one to another.  I like the sepia tones, and that’s the form they were originally published in, too.  But I was a little lazy in trying to get the final appearance consistent between the pictures.  I can only hope you will grant some forgiveness on that score – I didn’t equalize all the variance very well.


Chief Seattle – as is often the case, the provenance of oratory from oral-tradition language, is suspect.  Tradition has passed down that he made a great speech, and there’s no readon to doubt that.  But no one knows for sure what he actually said.  The provenance of this photo is certain, however.  It’s Seattle’s daughter, called “Princess Angeline” photographed by Curtis c. 1902.  She’s the first Native American he photographed, in the city named for her father, about 50 years after he made his famous speech as a respected elder at the time of the Governor Stevens Treaties back in the 1850s.  Angeline likely deserves some credit for inspiring his Curtis’s work.  

Chief Seattle (1850s)

Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove, has been hallowed by some sad or happy event in days long vanished. Even the rocks, which seem to be dumb and dead as the swelter in the sun along the silent shore, thrill with memories of stirring events connected with the lives of my people, and the very dust upon which you now stand responds more lovingly to their footsteps than yours, because it is rich with the blood of our ancestors, and our bare feet are conscious of the sympathetic touch. Our departed braves, fond mothers, glad, happy hearted maidens, and even the little children who lived here and rejoiced here for a brief season, will love these somber solitudes and at eventide they greet shadowy returning spirits. And when the last Red Man shall have perished, and the memory of my tribe shall have become a myth among the White Men, these shores will swarm with the invisible dead of my tribe, and when your children’s children think themselves alone in the field, the store, the shop, upon the highway, or in the silence of the pathless woods, they will not be alone.

Especially that more famous speech about the Earth being our Mother.  This has been attributed in the past, but debunked in a scholarly sense.

How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?

Every part of the Earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every clear and humming insect is holy in the memory and experience of my people. The sap which courses through the trees carries the memory and experience of my people. The sap which courses through the trees carries the memories of the red man.

I do know enough of the Northwest Culture, firsthand, to know that the people were/are horrified at the destruction of their watersheds, and the near elimination of the salmon, which were as central to their material culture as were the bison on the Plains.  Yeah, that’s a mountain of buffalo skulls, from the days when the government was paying bounties as part of the effort to starve the Plains tribes onto reservations once the cross-country railroad was completed in 1869:


Back to Curtis: He submitted some of his early Indian photographs to a national contest and won the Grand Prize.  It led to a patron’s commission from robber baron J.P. Morgan to create his magnum opus.


Edward Curtis’s work has oft been criticized for not being accurate documentary work.  Back then, there was a pervasive notion around that Native Americans would vanish from the face of the earth, within the lifetime of people living then.  In addition to J.P. Morgan’s patronage, Curtis got renegade Republican former President Theodore Roosevelt to contribute a preface to the limited edition set of folios produced by his project:

The Indian as he has hitherto been is on the point of passing away. …  It would be a veritable calamity if a vivid and truthful record of these conditions were not kept.

Mr. Curtis, because of the singular combination of qualities with which he has been blest, and because of his extraordinary success in making and using his opportunities, has been able to do what no other man ever has done; what, as far as we can see, not other man coud do.  He is an artist who works out of doors and not in the closet.  He is a close observer, whose qualities of mind and body fit him to make his observations out in the field, surrounded by the wild life he commemorates.  He has lived on intimate terms with many different tribes of the mountains and the plains.  He knows them as they hunt, as they travel, as they go about their various avocations on the march and in the camp.  He knows their medicine me and sorcerers, their chiefs and warriors, their young men and maidens.  He has not only seen their vigorous outward existence, but has caught glimpses, such as few white men ever catch, into that strange spiritual and mental life of theirs; from whose innermost recesses all white men are forever barred.

One can only guess what Curtis had in mind in this photograph.  First, it’s important to note that it’s not a “stolen” picture.  That naked man, with his bow, is clearly a willing participant in creating the image, with its shades of European Romanticism.  Certainly more dream than literal reality.  And naturally conjuring up that concept of the “noble savage”.  Frenchman Jean-Jacques Rousseau is given credit for that phrase, though probably doesn’t rightfully deserve it.  But he certainly buys into the notion of a state of primeval purity.  This from his Discourse on Inequality (1754):

The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, said “This is mine,” and found people naive enough to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.

One should remember that the French word sauvage means wild, with entirely different connotations than its English cognate.  Now, back to Curtis.  I’ve spent the last couple of weeks looking through the entire archive, and it seems pretty clear he was trying to do pretty much what TR said – record stuff, as best he could, before it was lost forever.  It’s manifestly clear in photographs like this little-seen one, entitled Hopi Farmers, Yesterday and Today:


And regardless what else one thinks of Curtis’s work, he was a really good portraitist, whether going for the modern (of his day) or the primeval timeless.  His many, many subjects were clearly willing ones.  These are not stolen images, they are given freely – Cheyenne on the left, Alaska Native (Kotzebue) on the right:


Curtis spent over two decades working on this project, roughly a generation’s time.  A generation before he started, the last of the western tribes were confined to reservations with only a few renegades like Geronimo on the loose in the 1880s.  “I will fight no more forever” Chief Joseph was brought to ground in 1877.  Curtis tracked down some of those last leaders and photographed them as old men.

One of the “good guys” on Western Indian policy of the post-Civil War days was John Wesley Powell.  Powell is most famous for being one-armed and commanding the first boat trip down the Colorado River.  He was also the first head of the US Geological Survey.  His survey expeditions throughout the West were unique in that he went without military escort, and learned to speak some of the native languages himself.  This from Joseph Hillers, from Powell’s 1872 field season.  These people were the real deal in terms of being sauvage (in the French sense).  Living on the north rim of the Grand Canyon, they’d had very little contact with Europeans.


Powell was a correspondent with, and colleague of William Henry Morgan (he’s a topic for another day, all in himself).  Morgan, exchanging letters with missionaries from around the globe, “discovered” that matrilineal descent was the practice of most aboriginal cultures.  Powell took those ideas and helped craft a public policy to obliterate indigenous culture in favor of assimilation.  Key policy points were extinguishing native languages, with all the culture contained therein, and getting rid of matrilineal extended family organization and property inheritance.  The Indian Boarding schools played a central role in that process.

Perhaps the best known of those Indian Schools is Carlisle, in Pennsylvania, founded in 1879.  That’s an arriving student, and after he’d been “trained” at Carlisle.  The thing that’s always impressed me about this one is that they even made his skin lighter.  Carlisle was founded by Col. Richard Pratt who is oft-quoted as saying:

A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one, and that … has been an enormous factor in promoting Indian massacres. In a sense, I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.

Below are the students at Fort Spokane Indian School.  The picture was taken in 1904, the same year Curtis took the picture at Cañon de Chelly, found above the fold in this diary.


And so the various Indian Boarding schools in the U.S. and Canada did their work.  There’s currently a “Truth & Reconciliation” kind of restitution process underway in Canada.  The U.S. might be well-served to do the same.  It irks me a bit that they’ve never digitized the evidence in the US, and put it online to show what happened.  I sat and cried at things I saw in the Archives:  Children being taught to iron cotton shirts, brand cattle, sit on chairs fer chrissakes!  Not depicted, but attested to innumerable times:  Beatings for speaking their own native language with their own siblings.  And, as I’ve already mentioned, this started a full generation before Curtis started taking pictures like this one (Navajo):


It’s not like their own cultures didn’t know how to take care of themselves.  Northwest coast is of the longhouse tradition, built facing the water, home of the salmon.  Big canoes for travel, fishing and even whale-hunting (as above).

And the War Department’s gonna train kids from Tulalip (a Puget Sound tribe) to work in a sawmill?  Like they ain’t been raised to know more about woodworking than their teachers and commanding officers would ever know?


They were supposed to be raised away from their own dances and songs, too, not just their languages.  

Most of ’em didn’t go home for the summer either.  Often they were hired out as servants or laborers instead.  The schools put them to work, too, planting crops for their own meals.  (Spokane 1900)

Like Native people hadn’t known how to feed themselves till the missionaries and soldiers showed up to teach them:

Oh yeah.  They were supposed to abandon their religion, too.


Like I said at the beginning, this diary’s an entry in my New Deal series.  You’ve now been through several screens of pictures and chatter, but not a hint of New Deal.  Here’s where it ties in.  I’ve been trying to get a grip on how issues of race and gender played out in the 1930s WPA.  I was finding very few blacks showing up in the pictures of work crews and all.  There were a few – it was an all-Black labor force that restored Booker T. Washington’s DC home for the National Park Service, for example.  And there was a Harlem branch of the Federal Arts Project.

Then, suddenly I found a bunch in education.  Some really touching stuff of elderly former slaves learning to read, and the like.  That was in adult education.  Then there was vocational education, which ignited a few synapses and got my imagination in gear:

Looks a lot like “training activities at the Indian Boarding schools:

And, when it comes right down to it, women of all stripes got steered in similar directions for work as domestic servants.  This is WPA vocational education, too:

Nevermind that many of ’em would be in wartime defense factories a few years later, this was about all they were allowed to learn about (plus typing and sewing).


So, we look though all these various training pictures, and it appears the lesson to all is to keep the head bowed, and gaze cast downwards, and subject yourself to someone superior.  This from the great Dorothea Lange, photographer with the New Deal FSA.  Your tax dollars at work (Clarksdale, MS.)

Then there’s a war, and there’s the Tuskeegee Airmen:

Then there’s a war and there’s Rosie the Riveter (this rare color pic from 1943):

Then there’s a war, and suddenly it’s a national treasure that the Bureau of Indian Affairs didn’t succeed in suppressing native languages and cultures after all.  In addition to the celebrated Navajo Code Talkers (here), there were Choctaw and Comanche Code Talkers, too:

The thing I like about Rosie, and the airmen, and the code talkers – all ’em got to hold their heads up high, be proud of doing their best, of contributing to an effort bigger than themselves for the “common good”.  The thing I don’t get is why these qualities are mostly drawn upon only for the jingoism of war.  Not even that with George “Let’s Go Shopping!” Bush.  

Denver & Rio Grande RR, WWII

How come people – all of us – don’t get to matter all the time?  Power’s one of those things needs exercising; something we all need to do, one way or another.  If it’s been Wall-E world for awhile, it’s gotta stop.

Inspiration is a funny thing.  I knew about Curtis’s work, and had researched pictures of the boarding schools in the National Archives years ago.  (Damn them for not putting most of that stuff online yet, inviting you to Maryland to do your own research and pay for copies!)  Looking at those women getting trained by the WPA to be domestic help was the starting point for this essay.

Previous entries in the series:

Indian Boarding Schools: Cultural Assimilation and Destruction (Edited)

( – promoted by navajo)

What happened inside the walls of theIndian Boarding School that used to be to the right here?

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Let’s look to history for some feasible answers.

(This video is over at Pretty Bird Woman House)

(All bold mine)



As we have taken into our national family seven millions of Negroes, and as we receive foreigners at the rate of more than five hundred thousand a year, and assimilate them, it would seem that the time may have arrived when we can very properly make at least the attempt to assimilate our two hundred and fifty thousand Indians, using this proven potent line, and see if that will not end this vexed question and remove them from public attention, where they occupy so much more space than they are entitled to either by numbers or worth.

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Children are educated to become responsible and free thinking adults in the future; however, those were not Elazor Wheelock’s goals when he began Dartmouth College in 1769.

To the contrary of genuine education’s goals, Wheelock’s Indian College in Hanover, New Hampshire and the Indian Boarding Schools that followed had these things


…cultural destruction, forced assimilation, and military regimen were popularized by Richard Henry Pratt, who started the Carlisle Indian School in 1879, and became cornerstones of most Indian boarding schools in the United States.

as the goals. So, just how did they come into reality?

Christian denominations were given power to build them on reservations as a result of Ulysses S. Grant’s “peace policy.”


The policy pursued toward the Indians has resulted favorably, so far as can be judged from the limited time during which it has been in operation. Through the exertions of the various societies of Christians to whom has been entrusted the execution of the policy, and the board of commissioners authorized by the law of April 10, 1869, many tribes of Indians have been induced to settle upon reservations, to cultivate the soil, to perform productive labor of various kinds, and to partially accept civilization.They are being cared for in such a way, it is hoped, as to induce those still pursuing their old habits of life to embrace the only opportunity which is left them to avoid extermination.

I recommend liberal appropriations to carry out the Indian peace policy,
not only because it is humane, Christian like, and economical, but because it is right.

Those Christian denominations also had some measure of control with the B.I.A., yet only in terms of carrying out the “peace policy” on reservations. Now that the general historical context has been set with a few specifics; consequently, what were the means to the “cultural destruction and forced assimilation?” Clearly put, it’s at least categorized into the following: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, sexual, and neglectful abuse with at least illness and poor sanitation which sometimes even resulted in death. Ironically, Friends of the American Indian and Thomas Morgan believed those were merely the lesser evils.


The choices seemed simple and stark to the reformer movement – either kill all the Indians or assimilate them into white civilization through education.


“We must either fight Indians, feed them, or else educate them. To fight them is cruel, to feed them is wasteful, while to educate them is humane, economic, and Christian.”

Some examples of the extraordinary abuse and death in moreover extremely poor sanitation conditions of the Indian Boarding Schools are as follows:


When they got to Carlisle, the students were extremely homesick. Their long hair was cut. One boarding school student, Lone Wolf of the Blackfoot tribe, remembered:

“[Long hair] was the pride of all Indians. The boys, one by one, would break down and cry when they saw their braids thrown on the floor. All of the buckskin clothes had to go and we had to put on the clothes of the White Man. If we thought the days were bad, the nights were much worse. This is when the loneliness set in, for it was when we knew that we were all alone. Many boys ran away from the school because the treatment was so bad, but most of them were caught and brought back by the police.”


They were forbidden to practice their religion and were forced to memorize Bible verses and the Lord’s Prayer.


Rose was strapped for speaking her language. This is a common practice in schools all over the place at the time. Her open hands were hit with a large thick leather strap, many times.
I received the strap on several occasions, although not as harshly as Rose did in my story. I did see many native children whose hands were strapped so long and hard that they were blistered for days, as though they had been burned with fire.


Indian Boarding School Abuse – Including Child Molestation

In the late 19th century, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (in conjunction with various churches) placed thousands of Native American children into Indian Boarding Schools. At the boarding schools, the children were forced to give up their Indian heritage and were forbidden from speaking their native languages. They were routinely beaten and sexually abused, and some even died.

Here is a letter that author and professor of American Studies at the University of Minnesota, Brenda J. Child posted,

Boarding School Seasons: American Indian Families, 1900-1940 (North American Indian Prose Award Series) (Paperback)

by Brenda J. Child,
that informs a parent of the death of its child from an Indian Boarding School.

(from photobucket)

(Italics mine)


(letter is no longer up, this is the old address)

Dear Sir,

It is with a feeling of sorrow that I write you telling of the death of your daughter Lizzie. She was sick but a short time and we did not think her so near her end. Last Wednesday I was called away to Minneapolis and I was very much surprised upon my return Saturday evening to find she was dead, as they had given us no information except she might live for a number of months. Those that were with her say she did not suffer, but passed away as one asleep. I am very sorry that you could not have seen your daughter alive, for she had grown quite a little and improved very much since you let her come here with me. If we had known she was going to live but so short a time, we would have made a great effort to have gotten you here before she died.

So wrote the superintendent of Flandreau Indian School to the father of a student who died of tuberculosis in a government boarding school in 1907. …Hundreds of children like Lizzie died at boarding school, never to return to their families and communities.



The survey staff finds itself obliged to say frankly and unequivocally that the provisions for the care of the Indian children in boarding schools are grossly inadequate.

The outstanding deficiency is in the diet furnished the Indian children, many of whom are below normal health.
The diet is deficient in quantity, quality, and variety. The effort has been made to feed the children on a per capita of eleven cents a day, plus what can be produced on the school farm, including the dairy. At a few, very few, schools, the farm and the dairy are sufficiently productive to be a highly important factor in raising the standard of the diet, but even at the best schools these sources do not fully meet the requirements for the health and development of the children. At the worst schools, the situation is serious in the extreme…

Next to dietary deficiencies comes overcrowding in dormitories. The boarding schools are crowded materially beyond their capacities. A device frequently resorted to in an effort to increase dormitory capacity without great expense is the addition of large sleeping porches. They are in themselves reasonably satisfactory, but they shut off light and air from the inside rooms, which are still filled with beds beyond their capacity.
The toilet facilities have in many cases not been increased proportionately to the increase in pupils, and they are fairly frequently not properly maintained or conveniently located. The supply of soap and towels has been inadequate…

What is a modern consequence of all this? Boarding School intergenerational trauma, which has been being addressed by those indigenous people who still suffer from its devastating effects.


Working to heal the wounds of boarding school

United Nations panel hopes to undo the damage caused by U.S. government’s Indian boarding school policies

By Karen Lynch

“People in Indian country are still becoming aware of the effects of boarding school trauma,” said Dr. Eulynda Toledo-Benalli, Dine’, currently performing boarding school healing project research with the Navajo people. “This is something about our history that is not being talked about in a way that encourages healing from its intergenerational trauma…”

As a panelist, Dr. Toledo-Benalli said the pain she suffered as a second-generation survivor affected not only herself but her children, as well. “Many times I have said to my children that I’m sorry for the way I treat them. This is so, because parents learn parenting skills from their parents. It is said that the oppressed become the oppressors.

As Dr. Toledo-Benalli talked about the painful memories as a survivor, the memory of her father who was “snatched and taken to Colorado, to a place that he did not know even existed. My mother who was herding sheep was also snatched.

The Wellbriety Movement helps with boarding school intergenerational trauma as well.


The Healing Forest Model

The unhealed forest (community, left) transforms itself into a healed forest (right) by participating in and utilizing Wellbriety Movement activities, programs, and learning resources. The destructive roots of anger, guilt, shame and fear of the unhealed forest become the four gifts of the Sacred Hoop: Forgiving the Unforgivable, Healing, Unity and Hope. The wounded trees become healthy trees and the community participates in wellness involvements, such as, sober powwows, tradition, culture and spirituality. These are some of the gifts of the Wellbriety Movement.

(Medicine Bluffs)

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Having looked to history for some feasible answers as to what happened inside the walls of that Boarding School, as well as the definition of historical trauma and one helpful solution, I also suggest reading:

Tim Giago’s book “Children Left Behind: The Dark Legacy of Indian Mission Boarding Schools,”

and jenniestarrish’s diary  Kill the Indian, save the man at Native American Netroots.

In my family’s case, my dad was sent to a boarding school about 800 miles from home. This was in the early 1930’s and that was an incredible distance to cover in those years.

I hope with all my heart that those relatives, known and unknown who still suffer from

boarding school intergenerational trauma are able to the find peace and resolution that they need for themselves and for their loved ones.

Kill the Indian, save the man

( – promoted by navajo)

This was official U.S. government policy towards the education of Indian Children for decades.

A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one, and that high sanction of his destruction has been an enormous factor in promoting Indian massacres. In a sense, I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.
Capt. Richard H. Pratt on the Education of Native Americans

In one sense I agree with Pratt’s sentiments. But only in the belief that education is critical for all peoples. But an  education that destroyed cultures, families, self-worth and identity is what Pratt proposed, what Congress agreed with and what is a large part of the problems found in the native community up to this day.

The first schools weren’t so bad in that they were on the Reservations where the kids could live at home and be with their families. However, these schools soon gave way to Indian Boarding schools. These boarding schools were set up with the express purpose of separating Indian children from their families, the communities and their traditional beliefs, their whole world in fact.  The government believed the only way to make the Indian what they thought he should be was in fact to kill the Indian in him. Unfortunately, all the really succeeded in doing is destroying the man (or woman) in many cases.

Most of the Indian parents had no problem with schooling for their children. They fought for it, even knowing that their kids would be taught in English and would to an extent begin to adopt White ways. Being forced onto lands which could not support the traditional ways of life, these parents knew that it was impossible to live in all the traditional ways and that the only way out of the extreme poverty forced upon was through education. But they were also determined that their children would hold onto their traditions, beliefs and culture while learning to function in the “white” world.

The government vehemently disagreed with this. Their belief was that only way to take care of the Indian “problem” was to take generations of Indian children, remove them from their families and all they had ever known and loved and in this way destroy their culture.  For the many Native families whose kids were forced to attend boarding schools all the government really accomplished in many cases was to destroy Indian communities and families. I do not the exact number of Indian children who attended boarding schools. I can tell you that in the 1930’s there were approximately 300,000 Native Americans in the U.S. Of these about 100,000 had attended boarding schools for some period of time.

The boarding schools were definitely not the type that white people sent their kids to get the best education possible. The Indian boarding schools were often run like the Russian gulag camps set up for political dissidents with a bit of education thrown in.  Only in the case of Indians, it was children who were being raised by “cultural dissidents” who were sent to be reeducated.  And the farther from home they could sent the better. In many cases the children would not see their families for years. And some never saw their families again. The conditions in the boarding schools were deplorable more often than not.  The nutrition was inadequate, they were often filthy and there was next to no healthcare. Disease was rampant,  and children with TB  and other contagious diseases often not only lacked medical care,  they were in many cases left to live in the same dormitories and attend classes with the kids who would then be exposed to these diseases. When parents tried to prevent their children from being sent away, food rations were cut, arrests made and the children were literally kidnapped and sent away.  Once at boarding schools, many children tried to run away.  Punishment for them was harsh, from beatings to starvation and isolation. In one case at Wrangell Institute boarding school which my father attended, a girl who had runaway was caught and forced to stand tied up in a hallway for hours. When she grew tired and leaned or tried to sit she was beaten with a stick. When she fell, she was beaten until she managed to get up again.
Many children died at these boarding schools, and the extent of these deaths is just now being investigated. For example:

During the first decades of the federal government’s Indian boarding schools, stories of morbidity and mortality among students were prevalent. Don’t Know How, a Lakota father, shared an all-too-common experience. Anticipating the return of his daughter from Hampton (Virginia) Institute, Don’t Know How constructed a new house, purchased a store, and adopted to the extent he could the trappings of white America. His daughter, meanwhile, returned from Hampton suffering from consumption. Within days she succumbed to the scourge of Indian Country: tuberculosis. Soon thereafter, Don’t Know How’s other daughter departed for Hampton, where in a few years she followed her sister “to the little cemetery on the hill.” In Hampton’s first ten years of educating American Indian students, one of every eleven students died (31 of 304) at school and one of every five died as did Don’t Know How’s daughters soon after returning home.…

“A more complete history of the abuses endured by Native American children exists in the accounts of survivors of Canadian “residential schools.” Canada imported the U.S. boarding school model in the 1880s and maintained it well into the 1970s-four decades after the United States ended its stated policy of forced enrollment. Abuses in Canadian schools are much better documented because survivors of Canadian schools are more numerous, younger, and generally more willing to talk about their experiences.
A 2001 report by the Truth Commission into Genocide in Canada documents the responsibility of the Roman Catholic Church, the United Church of Canada, the Anglican Church of Canada, and the federal government in the deaths of more than 50,000 Native children in the Canadian residential school system.
The report says church officials killed children by beating, poisoning, electric shock, starvation, prolonged exposure to sub-zero cold while naked, and medical experimentation, including the removal of organs and radiation exposure.”

Recent invesitigations of U.S. boarding schools have reported the following:

Both BIA and church schools ran on bare-bones budgets, and large numbers of students died from starvation and disease because of inadequate food and medical care. School officials routinely forced children to do arduous work to raise money for staff salaries and “leased out” students during the summers to farm or work as domestics for white families. In addition to bringing in income, the hard labor prepared children to take their place in white society-the only one open to them-on the bottom rung of the socioeconomic ladder…
Native scholars describe the destruction of their culture as a “soul wound,” from which Native Americans have not healed. Embedded deep within that wound is a pattern of sexual and physical abuse that began in the early years of the boarding school system. Joseph Gone describes a history of “unmonitored and unchecked physical and sexual aggression perpetrated by school officials against a vulnerable and institutionalized population.” Gone is one of many scholars contributing research to the Boarding School Healing Project.
Rampant sexual abuse at reservation schools continued until the end of the 1980s, in part because of pre-1990 loopholes in state and federal law mandating the reporting of allegations of child sexual abuse. In 1987 the FBI found evidence that John Boone, a teacher at the BIA-run Hopi day school in Arizona, had sexually abused as many as 142 boys from 1979 until his arrest in 1987. The principal failed to investigate a single abuse allegation. Boone, one of several BIA schoolteachers caught molesting children on reservations in the late 1980s, was convicted of child abuse, and he received a life sentence. Acting BIA chief William Ragsdale admitted that the agency had not been sufficiently responsive to allegations of sexual abuse, and he apologized to the Hopi tribe and others whose children BIA employees had abused.
The effects of the widespread sexual abuse in the schools continue to ricochet through Native communities today. “We know that experiences of such violence are clearly correlated with posttraumatic reactions including social and psychological disruptions and breakdowns,” says Gone.

The abuse has dealt repeated blows to the traditional social structure of Indian communities….. Today, sexual abuse and violence have reached epidemic proportions in Native communities, along with alcoholism and suicide. By the end of the 1990s, the sexual assault rate among Native Americans was three-and-a-half times higher than for any other ethnic group in the U.S., according to the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics. Alcoholism in Native communities is currently six times higher than the national average. Researchers are just beginning to establish quantitative links between these epidemic rates and the legacy of boarding schools.


In my family’s case, my dad was sent to a boarding school about 800 miles from home. This was in the early 1930’s and that was an incredible distance to cover in those years.
His sister was sent from Alaska to a boarding school in Kansas. My grandmother was not able to stop this. It was only when her husband (who was white) returned after several years in Sweden that he was able to get the kids back. In my mother’s case, she and her brothers and sisters were lucky because a church had started a local school for Indian kids in the town of  Saxman which they were able to attend.
As I said they were among the lucky ones. The kids and parents who were separated throughout their school years were harmed in two ways people don’t always consider. First, children learn to parent by being parented. When they do not have role models to parent, they literally do not know how. So when they have kids, they are often lost as to how to raise them.

In interviews with some of the individuals who had ateended boarding school, comments like this were heard”

We heard from several respondents that their time away at boarding school, even when a good experience, contributed to their lack of parenting skills. One respondent said the following:

Although we had some chances to do things, but we did miss out a lot that we could’ve learned from our parents. And then one thing that I often talk to my friends about is the fact that we missed out on being raised by our parents, being taught by our parents. And we missed out in having the opportunity to observe our parents raise kids our age. Because we were kids, we were 12 years old, 11, 12, 13 year old kids being away. The guidance, we missed out the guidance that we could have received from them… So when I see parents not doing anything with their children,
not talking to their children, not disciplining their children, parents that are my age, I think about that. Because when I look at the parents, I see they’ve gone to St. Mary’s or Bethel or Edgecumbe or Chemawa, Oregon, Chilocco, Oklahoma, all those boarding schools that were popular at that time, they’re the parents that went.

The phenomenon of children being removed from their homes affected not only the students, but their home villages as well. One respondent described the phenomenon of a healthy village being turned upside down: When the children were taken away to boarding school the parents turned to
alcohol for solace. Three other interviewees, from two additional communities, shared similar tales about the adults from their villages becoming alcoholics after the children were sent away.


When the kids were taken from their parents, many times the parents just gave up. I’m sure most of us realize that when we have kids, we (hopefully) realize we have to grow up, become responsible, and work for our kids future. However, when kids on the reservation were taken away, that incentive was lost for many parents. With their kids torn from them, leaving them depressed and despondent, without hope, it was not unusual for the parents lives to also spiral downward. It has led to cycle of despair for many families on many reservations. Fortunately, many  The thing people should be surprised about concerning the level of abuse and neglect on, (and often times off) reservations is that it is not worse than it is.
The work of women like Georgia Littleshield is what is going to turn this type of thing around. I thank all of you who support her.