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Old August 3rd, 2008   #1
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Default Native American re-education camps in the 19th century

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My mother said that the nuns used to take the Indian kids to town to beg for money to support the mission school. They would point to the kids and say to passers-by, “Help these poor dirty Indians.” My mother and her brother Donald are shown here on the shores of Lake Superior during the 1980s.

Thoughts of my mother are always bittersweet. In recent years, however, the bitterness has grown into hope. It’s not an easy hope, covered in thorns as it is, but hope nonetheless. In my younger days, I was derailed by a deep sense of personal injustice. She was not the loving mother I felt I deserved. She was often cold, harsh, self absorbed and quick-tempered; never like the doting mothers of my white classmates. For many years, I felt terribly deprived and justifiably resentful.

In recent years, however, I’ve begun to realize that my fire of resentment scorched only my own heart, which I’ve let it burn down to a tolerable ember. I am beginning to see this tiny, irascible woman for who she truly is – a survivor. A woman whose dynamic force of will has stopped at nothing to hold onto life. We often joke that she will bury us all; she turned 83 this year. As I learn more about her personal history, I am humbled and grateful for her strength. In meeting the relentless daily demands of my own children, I now see that my mother gave me a great gift, a gift she never dared hope to receive as a child. She stayed.

Like too many Indian people from her generation, she and her siblings were forcibly taken from their family by non-Indian reservation authorities. They were then turned over to the church and the Catholic nuns who ran a boarding schools that existed for the purpose of stripping away Indian culture and identity from Indian children.

Now that her guard is down, robbed from her by growing dementia, the painful memories seem to rule her life. Each time we speak with her, she brings up the abuse she suffered at the sister school. She always begins her recollections in the same way, leaning in close, “I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but… .”

Her most frequently recurring memory is the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of an older boy and how she “screamed and screamed.” She also tells us how the nuns nailed her younger brother to the wooden plank dining table overnight when he wouldn’t eat a dinner of stewed onions. And about the beatings for speaking the Ojibwe language, for stealing food, for crying for one’s parents, for disobeying, for not working hard enough. The list goes on and on.

Life at the “sister school” robbed the experience of family or knowledge of parenting skills from my mother. Visits with family were kept to a minimum while the nuns over looked the event to ensure nothing “Indian” was passed along to the children. She recalls the only visit from her mother, who gave her a five-pound box of chocolates. Back in the dormitory, she quickly devoured the candy until she vomited. She has often told us she never liked chocolates after that and that she never got along with her mother. It was as though a mother’s love was a sweetness she could never taste. She remained estranged from her mother her entire life, never forgiving her for not resisting the nuns. She never gained the luxury of objectivity about her life. Her only ally was the chip placed firmly on her shoulder, a fierce insistence that she wasn’t a “dirty Indian” but always harboring under the surface a lingering fear that she was.

In the “sister school,” my mom and her siblings learned the domestic arts, with a special emphasis on cleanliness. The latter remains a lasting lesson for my mother and many Indian women of her generation, as they repeatedly try to wash away the terrible shame of being a “dirty Indian”. Even today, I feel a tiny degree of guilt if I stand and use a mop to wash the kitchen floor rather than using a rag while “on my prayer bones,” as my mother harshly instructed.

I hear her words, “We may be Indian, but by God, we ain’t dirty!”

Like most Ojibwe women, my mother is a great storyteller. I recall summer afternoons lying on her bed in the dark, cool bedroom where she would recreate scenes from her childhood. My mother told of cruel Sister Catherine’s death. Sister Catherine fell down the steps to the root cellar where the food was stored and hit her head. “Oh, how us kids did a silent cheer!” she recalled, still giggling at the memory of Sister getting her “comeuppance.”

I know now, however, most of the stories were sanitized and wishful memories. It was her attempt not to focus on her violent alcoholic father, who beat his young bride and repeatedly left them after vain attempts to provide for his family. Her mother was not a desperate young woman who simply gave up on her children. In her stories, her father was a hero who never stopped trying to win back his children. My mother left out the real barbed wire pain of abandonment, worthlessness and undiagnosed mental illness. I learned these things on my own when I was strong enough to hear them.

The memories from Indian boarding schools are still handed down one generation to the next where they lodge in our hearts like tiny jagged pieces of steel, robbing us of our pride if we let them. Those “sister school” stories became part of my psyche even before I could speak. Like a big ugly suitcase, they were passed along to me to carry if I would; I think it is much the same for other native people.

Although feeble, the recent U. S. apology for its “ill-conceived policies” adds to efforts to break this cycle. It may help us move toward some sort of healing. Certainly no amount of reparations could make my mother un-see or un-feel the happenings at the “sister school”. At the very suggestion, I imagine her spitting out the following, “I don’t want any danged ol’ rotten white man’s money!”

My great hope, however, is that the apology and actions like it will set the stage for validation that the Indian boarding school era really happened that the hurt my mother suffers wasn’t her fault. Even greater, my hope is that maybe we won’t have to keep passing down the hurt; that with understanding maybe we can take away some of its power.

For now, in my family, we are serving as my mother’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We listen attentively to her stories, told over and over again. Gratefully, we are now able to pray she may at last find peace.

The American Indian boarding school era began in the late 19th century during the administration of President Ulysses S.

Grant. Boarding schools, where Indian children underwent acculturation into white society, were touted as an economical alternative solution to the nation’s “Indian problem” (as opposed to outright war).


Navajo Tom Torlino, photographed in1887 and again 1890 after completing a three-year course at the Carlisle Indian School, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

Under Grant’s Peace Policy of 1869, thousands of American Indian children as young as 5 years old were taken from their families and subjected to a life of harsh discipline and cultural cleansing.

The schools were modeled after a prison school created by Captain Richard H. Pratt for Indian prisoners of war in Florida and were usually operated with military precision. Pratt’s philosophy of rigid order became the desired model. Punishment was swiftly meted out for offenses such as displaying any Indian tendencies. Students’ mouths were scrubbed out with lye soap for uttering any words in their native language. Children were virtual prisoners at the schools, forbidden to visit their parents, forced into hard labor, and subjected to a host of abuses including physical and sexual abuse by school officials and other students.

Since the schools usually functioned with limited funds, children frequently died from starvation or preventable diseases. Pratt’s philosophy to “kill the Indian to save the man” was widely embraced as a more humane, Christian solution for controlling the Indian population. Native children were trained to become “useful, contributing” members of the new America as domestic servants – the only role for which they were deemed fit. This policy of forced acculturation was supported by the U.S. government, which appropriated funds for more than 400 such schools.

The system continued well into the 20th century. By the mid-1930s, schools began to slowly improve. By the 1970s the schools began to recognize the merits of including native culture in curriculum, and gradually became less coercive. Although most of today’s Indian boarding schools are located on reservations and operated by tribes, the schools are plagued with a lack of funding, alcohol and substance abuse, and high suicide rates among students according to the National Center for American Indian and Alaska Native Mental Health Research. A recent report by the Government Accountability Office found that at least 60 percent of Bureau of Indian Affairs schools have inadequate funding.

Physicians, educators and leaders in Indian country have recently begun to publically discuss the connection between the legacy of hurt and abuse suffered at boarding schools and serious social problems within the native community. According to a 2007 U.S. Justice Department study, native women are 2.5 times more likely to be raped or sexually abused than other women in the U.S. Native people struggle with unprecedented levels of alcohol and substance abuse and have a high incidence of abuse and violence toward children as well as high rates of suicide, especially among young people. Grass roots native organizations such as the Boarding School Project are making the case that the intergenerational trauma experienced at boarding schools has created post-traumatic stress disorder that has been passed down through generations. The organization is working to document boarding school abuses so that native communities can begin healing and demand justice.
I hope Richard Henry Pratt died a slow and painful death. Complete bastard.

That being said, the past and present situation with Native Americans is nothing short of a tragedy.

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Old August 3rd, 2008   #2
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Default Re: Native American re-education camps in the 19th century

Yup, and you generally won't find an American who doesn't regret the horrible atrocities OUR FOREFATHERS committed. At this point all we can do is help fund decent schools. We can't be held responsible for the actions of our ancestors.
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Old August 3rd, 2008   #3
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Default Re: Native American re-education camps in the 19th century

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Yup, and you generally won't find an American who doesn't regret the horrible atrocities OUR FOREFATHERS committed. At this point all we can do is help fund decent schools. We can't be held responsible for the actions of our ancestors.
Too true

no offense to anybody, but I read through a few of the websites articles and judging racial tolerance by this left wing site is like the equivilent judging the problem of immigration by reading articles on Stormfront or BNP website!
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Old August 4th, 2008   #4
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Default Re: Native American re-education camps in the 19th century

I'm not sure what kind of justice they plan on demanding - compensation? Money seems to be the usual form of 'justice' for oppressed peoples, despite their claims that money can never make up for their suffering.

The most I would expect the American people to do is try to help them rebuild their society and tackle the social problems they suffer. I find the concept of generational guilt to be as offensive as racial intolerance, and they'd find me short on pity if they tried to accuse the present American people to be guilty of something that happened before they were born.

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Too true

no offense to anybody, but I read through a few of the websites articles and judging racial tolerance by this left wing site is like the equivilent judging the problem of immigration by reading articles on Stormfront or BNP website!
I think you'll find that the abuse of Native Americans at the hands of European immigrants is pretty well-documented on both sides of the fence.

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Old August 4th, 2008   #5
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Default Re: Native American re-education camps in the 19th century

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I'm not sure what kind of justice they plan on demanding - compensation? Money seems to be the usual form of 'justice' for oppressed peoples, despite their claims that money can never make up for their suffering.
Welcome to Australia.

When Kevin Rudd said sorry to the Aboriginal population here, it was specifically implied that 'sorry' did not equal 'compensation'. Now any indigenous who were directly affected by the Stolen Generations received a payout of $20,000 and a further $3000 for each subsequent year they were affected.

It isn't like they don't get enough as it is however. University fee's are much lower, the education requirements are far lower, they also get huge scholarships on top of that. TAFE (tertiary education) is also free to them. Housing is given free in some cases (even where not needed), and so is transport.

It is a system abused by many, and the Government has no balls to publicly acknowledge this due to fear of being seen as racist.


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Old August 4th, 2008   #6
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Default Re: Native American re-education camps in the 19th century

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The most I would expect the American people to do is try to help them rebuild their society and tackle the social problems they suffer.
That is more or less what I had in mind.

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I find the concept of generational guilt to be as offensive as racial intolerance, and they'd find me short on pity if they tried to accuse the present American people to be guilty of something that happened before they were born.

I think you'll find that the abuse of Native Americans at the hands of European immigrants is pretty well-documented on both sides of the fence.
My objective is to inform people of our past and how we have treated the natives over the past 200 years. They didn't' have a word about this in our history textbooks in high school. In fact, the history lessons we had were fairly lenient on our leaders and put them in a bright light. As far as reparations go, I agree wholeheartedly. They aren't going to happen. Never.

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Old August 4th, 2008   #7
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Default Re: Native American re-education camps in the 19th century

well we can't change the past, but we can fix the present
We should help them rebuild, but we should not try to force our idealisms on them, or history will just repeat itself

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Old August 4th, 2008   #8
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Default Re: Native American re-education camps in the 19th century

The last of those schools in Canada only close about 12 years ago, so.

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Old August 4th, 2008   #9
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Default Re: Native American re-education camps in the 19th century

^that's pretty sad

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Old August 4th, 2008   #10
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Default Re: Native American re-education camps in the 19th century

The past is gone. All you can do is look back on it and learn the lessons that is taught us.

Looking at from the US government's point of view re-educating the children was a better option than waging war against the Native Americans. War would have cost millions of dollars and thousands of lives on both sides. Re-education was a cheaper option that did involve bloodshed. The abuse experienced by the children at that time was socially acceptable.

Looking at things today we can all agree that they were horrible things to do. At the time things like this were the norm. It is amazing that in 150 years we have moved as far as we have in social equality.

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My objective is to inform people of our past and how we have treated the natives over the past 200 years. They didn't' have a word about this in our history textbooks in high school. In fact, the history lessons we had were fairly lenient on our leaders and put them in a bright light.
A part of the government is educating you. They don't want to tell you things that would make you question your government. Thankfully today we have a reasonably open internet where people can learn things without having people put a bias on it unlike other forms of media.
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