Lost Lives, Lost Culture: The Forgotten History of Indigenous Boarding Schools in USA

Lots of similarities with Canada:

The last day Dzabahe remembers praying in the way of her ancestors was on the morning in the 1950s when she was taken to the boarding school.

At first light, she grabbed a small pouch and ran out into the desert to a spot facing the rising sun to sprinkle the taa dih’deen — or corn pollen — to the four directions, offering honor for the new day.

Within hours of arriving at the school, she was told not to speak her own Navajo language. The leather skirt her mother had sewn for her and the beaded moccasins were taken away and bundled in plastic, like garbage.

She was given a dress to wear and her long hair was cut — something that is taboo in Navajo culture. Before she was sent to the dormitory, one more thing was taken: her name.

“You have a belief system. You have a way of life you have already embraced,” said Bessie Smith, now 79, who continues to use the name given to her at the former boarding school in Arizona.

“And then it’s so casually taken away,” she said. “It’s like you are violated.”

The recent discoveries of unmarked graves at government-run schools for Indigenous children in Canada — 215 graves in British Columbia, 750 more in Saskatchewan — surfaced like a long-forgotten nightmare.

But for many Indigenous people in Canada and the United States, the nightmare was never forgotten. Instead the discoveries are a reminder of how many living Native Americans were products of an experiment in forcibly removing children from their families and culture.

Many of them are still struggling to make sense of who they were and who they are.

In the century and a half that the U.S. government ran boarding schools for Native Americans, hundreds of thousands of children were housed and educated in a network of institutions, created to “civilize the savage.” By the 1920s, one group estimates, nearly 83 percent of Native American school-age children were attending such schools.

“When people do things to you when you’re growing up, it affects you spiritually, physically, mentally and emotionally,” said Russell Box Sr., a member of the Southern Ute tribe who was 6 when he was sent to a boarding school in southwestern Colorado.

“We couldn’t speak our language, we couldn’t sing our prayer songs,” he said. “To this day, maybe that’s why I can’t sing.”

The discovery of the bodies in Canada led Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, the first Native American to head the department that once ran the boarding schools in the United States — and herself the granddaughter of people forced to attend them — to announce that the government would search the grounds of former facilities to identify the remains of children.

That many children died in the schools on this side of the border is not in question. Just last week, nine Lakota children who perished at the federal boarding school in Carlisle, Pa., were disinterred and buried in buffalo robes in a ceremony on a tribal reservation in South Dakota. 

Many of the deaths of former students have been recorded in federal archives and newspaper death notices. Based on what those records indicate, the search for bodies of other students is already underway at two former schools in Colorado: Grand Junction Indian School in central Colorado, which closed in 1911, and the Fort Lewis Indian School, which closed in 1910 and reopened in Durango as Fort Lewis College.

“There were horrific things that happened at boarding schools,” said Tom Stritikus, the president of Fort Lewis College. “It’s important that we daylight that.”

The idea of assimilating Native Americans through education dates back to the earliest history of the colonies.

In 1775, the Continental Congress passed a bill appropriating $500 for the education of Native American youth. By the late 1800s, the number of students in boarding schools had risen from a handful to 24,000, and the amount appropriated had soared to $2.6 million.

Throughout the decades that they were in existence, the schools were seen as both a cheaper and a more expedient way of dealing with the “Indian problem.”

Carl Schurz, the secretary of the interior in the late 1800s, argued that it cost close to $1 million to kill a Native American in warfare, versus just $1,200 to give his child eight years of schooling, according to the account of the historian David Wallace Adams in “Education for Extinction.” “A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one,” Capt. Richard H. Pratt, the founder of one of the first boarding schools, wrote in 1892. “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.”

Those who survived the schools described violence as routine. As punishment, Norman Lopez was made to sit in the corner for hours at the Ute Vocational School in southwestern Colorado where he was sent around age 6. When he tried to get up, a teacher picked him up and slammed him against the wall, he said. Then the teacher picked him up a second time and threw him headfirst to the ground, he said.

“I thought that it was part of school,” said Mr. Lopez, now 78. “I didn’t think of it as abusive.”

A less violent incident marked him more, he said.

His grandfather taught him how to carve a flute out of the branch of a cedar. When the boy brought the flute to school, his teacher smashed it and threw it in the trash.

He grasped even then how special the cedar flute and his native music were. “That’s what God is. God speaks through air,” he said, of the music his grandfather taught him.

He said the lesson was clear, both in the need to comply and the need to resist.

“I had to keep quiet. There’s plenty where it came from. Tree’s not going to give up,” he said of the cedar. “I’m not going to give up.”

Decades later, Mr. Lopez has returned to the flute. He carves them and records in a homemade studio, set up in his home on the Ute Mountain Ute reservation in Towaoc, Colo.

In the same boarding school, Mr. Box was punished so severely for speaking Ute that he refused to teach his children the language, in an effort to shield them the pain he endured, his ex-wife, Pearl E. Casias, said.

Years of alcoholism followed, he said. His marriage fell apart. It was not until middle age that he reached a fork in the road.

“I had been yearning in here,” he said, pointing to his heart. “My spirit had been yearning in here to stand in the lodge,” he said, referring to the medicine lodge that dancers enter during the annual Sundance, one of the most important ceremonies of the Ute people. “Then one day I said to myself, ‘Now I’m going to stand.’ And when I said that inside of me, there was a little flame.”

He went to the Sundance for the first time. He stopped drinking. This year, one of his daughters reached out to her mother, asking if she could teach her how to make beaded moccasins.

But for many, the wounds just do not heal.

Jacqueline Frost, 60, was raised by her Ute aunt, a matron at the boarding school who embraced the system and became its enforcer.

Ms. Frost said she remembered the beatings. “I don’t know if it was a broom or a mop, I just remember the stick part, and my aunt swung it at me,” she said, adding: “There was belts. There was hangers. There was shoes. There was sticks, branches, wire.”

She, too, turned to alcohol. “Even though I’ve gone to so much counseling,” she said, “I still would always say, ‘Why am I like this? Why do I have this ugly feeling inside me?’”

By the turn of the century, a debate had erupted on whether it was better to “carry civilization to the Indian” by building schools on tribal land. In 1902, the government completed the construction of a boarding school on the Southern Ute reservation in Ignacio, Colo. — the school that Mr. Box and Mr. Lopez both attended.

The impact of the school, which was shuttered decades ago, can be summed up in two statistics: In the 1800s, when federal agents were trawling the reservation for children, they complained that there were almost no adults who spoke English. Today, about 30 people out of a tribe of fewer than 1,500 people — only 2 percent — speak the Ute language fluently, said Lindsay J. Box, a tribal spokeswoman. (Mr. Box is her uncle).

For decades, Ms. Smith barely spoke Navajo. She thought she had forgotten it, until years later at the hospital in Denver where she worked as director of patient admissions, a Navajo couple came in with their dying baby and the language came tumbling back, she said.

It marked a turn for her. She realized that the vocabulary she thought had been beaten out of her was still there. As she looked back, she recognized the small but meaningful ways in which she had resisted.

From her first day in the dormitory, she never again practiced the morning prayer to the four directions.

Unable to do it in physical form, she learned instead to do it internally: “I did it in my heart,” she said.

In her old age, she now makes jewelry using traditional elements, like “ghost beads” made from the dried berries of the juniper tree. When she started selling online, she chose the domain: www.dzabahe.com.

It is her birth name, the one that was taken from her at the boarding school, the one whose Navajo meaning endured: “woman who fights back.”

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/19/us/us-canada-indigenous-boarding-residential-schools.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage

Khan: Coming to terms with a national shame

Good thoughtful piece, with the German approach in dealing with the Holocaust. Money quote:

“We have to understand these atrocities not as freak accidents of history, but as potentialities that can happen again,” she says. “Only then can we take responsibility for the past to work against tendencies in our society that ostracize others and make such atrocities possible.”

It’s a hard thing to reconcile: the dream of national destiny with the reality of national shame. My father struggled with it. As a Muslim in a fracturing India who lived through the trauma of partition in 1947, he has walked—literally—through fire to what he was told would be the promised land. When Pakistan was created, it was supposed to be a refuge for Muslims fleeing the communal killings on the Indian subcontinent; instead, it turned into a nightmare of corruption and state failure. As an adult, he was forced to flee again, this time to Canada, to another refuge.

To this day, my father still refuses to fully acknowledge the failure of Pakistan. He laments the corrupt leadership and the crimes committed there in the name of Islam. But Pakistan, the idea of it, still endures in his imagination. The national destiny he was promised lingers. It’s hard to let go.

For the first time in my life, I can now relate. For me, Canada has always been that place beyond the parched horizon, that shimmering oasis in a sea of global failures. Over two decades of working in some of the world’s cruelest places, Canada has always stood out for me as an example of what is possible for humanity. The national destiny of Canada, I’ve argued openly, is the hope for the world.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve struggled to reconcile that dream of a pristine, untainted Canada with the reality of the cruelties committed on its soil. I’m not naïve, of course. I’m not only now waking up to the horrors of colonialism and the crimes perpetrated against the original inhabitants of this continent. What I’m waking up to after the discovery of hundreds of dead and buried children—and the knowledge that there are thousands more waiting to be unearthed—is the attempted erasure that has occurred since those crimes were committed.

For me, this is the terrifying truth: As a child in elementary school in Toronto in the 1970s and 1980s, I was taught all the wonderful ways in which the “Indians” cooperated with European fur traders to help create what is our glorious Canada. It was, of course, mostly lies, but what is even worse is that at the same time, First Nations children were still being subjected to the cruelties of residential schools. While I was being told that Canada is unique in this world because of its multiculturalism, Indigenous culture and identity were being systematically erased.

All of this happened in my lifetime, in my country. Unmarked graves could very well have been dug while I was a child in Toronto, blissfully living the multicultural dream. And I was taught to forget.

***

The first time I saw a mass grave was in the spring of 2003. I was in Baghdad, not long after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime. The city was still smoldering from the devastation of America’s Shock and Awe campaign and the convulsion of retributive violence that followed. Admittedly, there was something poetic about the looting and the rioting: the people of Iraq were ransacking Saddam’s palaces and the countless villas belonging to his senior officials—bought with the country’s stolen oil wealth—in a burst of celebratory anarchism. Baghdad’s streets were buzzing with joy and cathartic outbursts of destruction. Statues of the dictator were being torn down; murals of his murderous sons were being graffitied over or left pock-marked by automatic gunfire.

Meanwhile, a quieter but more heart-wrenching ritual was playing out beyond the din of Baghdad’s dancing streets. Some 35 km east of the Iraqi capital, mothers were gathering daily on a patch of dusty ground in Abu Ghraib prison. Fathers and brothers were carefully picking through the earth, sometimes with their bare hands, uncovering the putrid remains of young men who had been executed in the fading hours of Baathist regime rule. These were the final executions the Baathists would carry out in their long and bloody history of executions, their victims hurriedly dumped in a shallow grave literally on the doorstep of the prison’s execution chamber, even as U.S. bombers were beginning their sorties overhead.

I met one distraught mother who told me her son had disappeared five years earlier. He went to work one morning, she said, and never came home. Since then, she had recurring dreams in which her son would appear to reassure her that he was in a better place. It had comforted her during the years he was missing, and while Saddam was still in power: searching for his remains at that time might have placed the rest of her family in danger. So instead, she wrapped herself in the belief that her son had made it into heaven, despite his body never receiving the proper Islamic funeral rites.

Watching this woman struggle with her grief while her husband clawed deeper into the earth reminded me of a passage from Michael Ondaaje’s novel, Anil’s Ghost, about a forensic pathologist investigating war crimes during Sri Lanka’s civil war:

“There was always a fear, double-edged, that it was their son in the pit, or that it was not their son—which meant there would be further searching. If it became clear that the body was a stranger, then, after weeks of waiting, the family would rise and leave. They would travel to other excavations in the western highlands. The possibility of their lost son was everywhere.”

In Iraq, in the spring of 2003, mothers everywhere were scouring the earth for the remains of their children. The woman at Abu Ghraib admitted she was only at the beginning of her journey toward some measure of peace after the horror of the Baathist regime. Her son was lost to her but she knew her journey would not end until he was found. “If we don’t find him here,” she told me, “we’ll dig up all of Iraq until we do.”

***

I met a carpet salesman once in Afghanistan, from a family of Sufi intellectuals, who lost his brother and father to the convulsions of political violence that preceded the Soviet invasion in 1979. Like thousands of other disappeared, their bodies were never returned and were likely buried in a mass grave somewhere in one of the valleys surrounding Kabul. Noorali in his carpet shop on Chicken Street in the city centre would sip sweet green tea and wax poetic about those days. “Graveyards are remembrance,” he told me once, “mass graves are erasure.”

That line has stuck with me as I’ve walked around other mass graves since, in Syria and Pakistan and Iraq. What’s striking is not its inherent truth but its implied failure. Mass graves are an attempt at erasure. In telling me the story of his father and brother decades later, Noorali was still resisting. The mother in Abu Ghraib, who had only begun her quest to find her son’s remains, was also resisting. In trying to erase their crimes, the diggers of mass graves had instead created a kind of permanent absence, a black hole pulling the living permanently into its orbit.

In her 2008 book, To Know Where He Lies: DNA Technology and the Search for Srebrenica’s Missing, the anthropologist Sarah E. Wagner describes how survivors of the genocide in Bosnia returned home and how the empty spaces left by the missing became permanent fixtures in the lives of the living.

“Their absence has seeped into the vernacular of the city,” Wagner writes. “Repeatedly I heard the phrase ‘nije došao‘ (He didn’t come) as an explanation of where sons, husbands, friends, and former neighbors were. Didn’t come home? Didn’t come back? Didn’t survive? I could not quite grasp the oblique reference of place implicit in this simple phrase.”

Later, she realizes that what was being alluded to was not a physical place but a journey, a passage from darkness into the light, from the horrors of the war back to peace. The missing were not merely lost to the world, they were lost to the process of return, to the journey to healing. “They did not come”, and in their absence that journey would remain incomplete.

***

Death has its own logic and the rituals associated with it reflect how intimately death is woven into the fabric of our lives. My wife is fascinated by the relationship between the living and the dead. The bookshelf in our home office is peppered with some rather morbid titles, like Zakes Mda’s Ways of Dying and Thomas W. Laqueur’s The Work of the Dead: A Cultural History of Mortal Remains. As a cultural anthropologist specializing in Afghanistan, she recently became interested in the transfer of human remains and how Afghans deal with missing loved ones—the war dead, refugees who have died in a distant land. From her point of view, the phrase ‘He didn’t come’ is an expression of a disconnect, of a severing of the living world and the spirit world. In the absence of the body there can be no funeral rites; and in the absence of funeral rites, the dead are lost to the living.

As a German, and successor to the national shame of the Holocaust, my wife has a visceral relationship with missing bodies and what it means to the survivors of mass erasure. The German experience of the Holocaust remains a kind of living memory; there is no escaping it, even three generations later. Germans are taught from a young age about what their ancestors attempted. There is no glossing over of facts, and the horror of that shared history is reinforced year after year during a person’s education.

As a result, the national shame of the Holocaust has been internalized by Germans. Some, of course, resist, arguing it is better for society to “move on”. My wife disagrees. The repeated exposure to the Holocaust has helped her develop a nuanced understanding of what Germans did. “We have to understand these atrocities not as freak accidents of history, but as potentialities that can happen again,” she says. “Only then can we take responsibility for the past to work against tendencies in our society that ostracize others and make such atrocities possible.”

The crimes we are willing to commit in the name of national destiny beget our national shame. We need to learn from the Germans and turn our faces to the horrors committed by our ancestors. We must do as the Germans do: relentlessly teach our own children about that history, to teach them that national shame is not something to bury away and forget. It is the only path to our redemption.

Source: Coming to terms with a national shame

Marche: If Canada wants to be healthy and decent and prosperous and stable, it needs to face its demons

One of the better commentaries. A friend suggested “the good, the bad and the ugly” which just about sums it up:

No country can be realistic about itself. Nations live by myths, both in the sense of collective stories that give meaning, and in the sense of lies. Ordinarily, the myths permeate the background of national life, unobserved and assumed. There are days when the myths go on display, like Canada Day, when everyone goes out and waves flags and talks about how lucky they are to live here. 

Then there are other days when the myths shatter, like when investigators discover the bodies of 751 Indigenous children in unmarked graves. This year the myth-displaying and the myth-shattering have come very close together, almost simultaneously. 

Canada is far from alone in finding an uncomfortable duality surrounding the stories it tells itself, a confusion of pride and horror. There’s a strange contradiction at play all around the world: The more successful a country is the less likely it is to celebrate itself. 

Anyone who has visited Germany over the past seventy years will have been overwhelmed by the sheer volume of historical memory to be consumed. Germans reckon with the evils of their past in a continuous way. It’s not just Holocaust memorials and museums. There are over 75,000 stumbling stones in Germany, small brass plaques on the streets each identifying a separate national disgrace — a family sent to a concentration camp, a business burned to the ground. Their confrontation with horror, their humility in facing it, has had serious political consequences. It is no coincidence that Germany has become the world’s leading democracy, one of the most stable, prosperous and decent nations in the world. They have put the spiritual work in. 

Contrast Germany with Britain. On June 25, British schools celebrated “One Britain One Nation Day” in which the Education Secretary encouraged all school age children to sing the “Strong Britain, Great Nation” song. “We are British and we have one dream,” it begins, and the chorus which repeats itself ad nauseam is “Strong Britain, Great nation!” The sheer creepiness of the totalitarian esthetic is grotesque. But I honestly felt sorry for the British after I heard “Strong Britain, Great Nation.” Somebody had to commission that piece of music. Somebody had to compose it. Somebody’s children had to sing it. It’s so humiliating for everyone involved. 

England has chosen to decline in a fit of make-believe Imperialist nostalgia, embodied perfectly by Prime Minister Boris Johnson. In 2016, 44 per cent of Britains agreed with the statement that the British Empire was “something to be proud of.” Through Brexit, they have paid a heavy price for their comforting myths of their own magnificence: a sharp decline in global influence, a shrinking economy and the instability of the Union itself. The contrast between the rhetoric and the reality is growing ever more extreme: Five years after their great splurge to “take back control,” they don’t even have control over shipments of sausages to Northern Ireland. I guess that’s why they need to sing ridiculous hymns to their own strength. 

It’s not that the Germans are somehow better people than the English. It’s not that Germany doesn’t have its own problems with nationalism. It’s that Germany has chosen to reckon with its own history problems rather than pretend them away. In the case of America, the matter is starker: Four years of “Make America Great Again” have led to a political system in mid-collapse. Hollering for American greatness led to suffering American catastrophe. 

What all of this shows is simple enough intellectually if hard to grasp emotionally: If you want your country to be healthy and decent and prosperous and stable, you should want it to face its demons. “I think Canada is a great historical achievement,” Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said recently. “It is an imperfect country, but it is still a great country, just as John Macdonald was an imperfect man but was still a great leader.” Kenney was not exactly wrong (the full text of his remarks is far more nuanced and reasonable than the reaction to the sound bite clips would lead anyone to believe) but, to me, the frame of his question is a false dichotomy: Every country is imperfect just as every person is imperfect. Facing the imperfections is what patriotism looks like, not turning away from them. The celebration and the confrontation must occur together to be meaningful.

Quite apart from the political future of Canada’s relationship to Indigenous communities, the process of truth and reconciliation is essential for our own survival. Every former residential school in this country should be a museum. Every school age child should visit one. These locations are the very black diamond of our national evil. We must face them not because we hate Canada but because we love it. The honour of this country is at stake, and Canadian honour is worth fighting for. It is our duty to fight for it. 

Four hundred thousand people are going to move to Canada next year. That’s not a myth. That’s a fact. They’re not moving here for the weather. There is a great deal in Canada that is lovable, but love comes at a cost. Let’s celebrate this country, but quietly this year. Let’s celebrate, but remember.

Source: https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/analysis/2021/07/01/if-canada-wants-to-be-healthy-and-decent-and-prosperous-and-stable-it-needs-to-face-its-demons.html?li_source=LI&li_medium=thestar_recommended_for_you

Residential Schools: Now ain’t the time for your tears

Good overview of all the times Canadians were informed about what happened in residential schools:

In 1964 Bob Dylan released The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carrol, one of his masterworks. The song chronicles the circumstances of the atrocious murder of an African American woman and the hypocrisy of the society that produced her killer.

As the horrifying revelations from Kamloops and Cowessess of graves at the sites of former residential schools have unfolded I am reminded of Dylan’s refrain aimed at mainstream American society:

“Take the rag away from your face, now ain’t the time for your tears.”

Surely just like many Americans who were bystanders on civil rights in America, too many non-Indigenous Canadians have turned a blind eye to the grotesque injustices of the residential school system for decades.

As a non-Indigenous person of English and Italian background I have no difficulty describing myself as a settler in these lands. As an educator and storyteller I have attempted to inform myself about the Indigenous history of Canada. This is an extremely painful moment for many, particularly Indigenous people. What it is not, is surprising.

I am appalled to hear in 2021 many Canadians who claim to be well meaning and would self-identify as progressives state that they ‘didn’t know’ about residential schools.

Really?

“Now ain’t the time for your tears.”

As early as the 1860s, people like Florence Nightingale were calling attention to the atrocious death rates in state-run boarding schools for Indigenous children.

Federal medical inspector Peter Henderson Bryce exposed horrific conditions and high death tolls in residential schools prior to the First World War. His book The Story of a National Crime: An Appeal for Justice to the Indians of Canada published almost a century ago garnered parliamentary and press attention, but little political action.

Conservative and Liberal governments, with the willing cooperation of senior civil servants like Duncan Campbell Scott, better known to Canadians at the time as an admirable poet, journalist and musician, worked assiduously to pursue residential school policy and stifle whistleblowers like Bryce. Despite Scott’s reluctance to engage in full scale residential school reform, he contributed the following to Canada And Its Provinces in 1914 about the beginnings of the residential school system:

The well-known predisposition of Indians to tuberculosis resulted in a very large percentage of deaths among the pupils. They were housed in buildings not carefully designed for school purposes, and these buildings became infected and dangerous to the inmates. It is quite within the mark to say that fifty per cent of the children who passed through these schools did not live to benefit from the education which they had received therein.”

Over the last several decades writers including Olive Patricia Dickason, John S. Milloy, J.R. Miller, E. Brian Titley and Richard Wagamese documented the residential school horrors. Since the 1960s several acclaimed filmmakers including Hugh Brody, Gil Cardinal, Nadia McLaren, Alanis Obomsawin and Loretta Sarah Todd have explored the issue with intelligence and passion. All these works have been readily available to Canadians.

In 1996 The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples led by co-chairs Georges Erasmus, former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations and Justice René Dussault tabled a comprehensive investigation on many issues including the history, impact and legacy of residential schools.

In 2015, Truth And Reconciliation Canada led by Justice Murray Sinclair issued its own extraordinarily detailed report on the system. Sinclair and his team stated clearly there were unmarked graves waiting to be found.

Just two years ago The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls sadly documented a saga of injustice for many women, some of whom or whose families, had been harmed by the residential school experience. Chief Commissioner Marion Buller and her team asserted categorically based on their investigation that Canada’s assault on Indigenous women and girls was genocide.

It is disingenuous at best for any reasonably educated Canadian to excuse her or his self with the ‘I didn’t know’ refrain in regards to residential schools. Like the architects of Canadian “Indian” policy from the late 19th and early 20th centuries too many of us were prepared to see Indigenous people as marginal and their negative experiences as regrettable, but inevitable collateral damage on the path to Canadian civilization, economic development and expansion.

In June 2015, Buffy Sainte-Marie performed in downtown Ottawa on the occasion of the release of the Truth and Reconciliation report. Before beginning to play, she clearly stated an unwelcome truth. Ms. Sainte-Marie said Canadians had every means to learn the truth about residential schools for a long time.

When I began my career in the 1980s, many of my journalistic colleagues were preoccupied with injustices in El Salvador, Nicaragua or South Africa. There was much less concern about conditions in Chisasibi, New Ayainsh, Pangnirtung, Sheshatshiu or Temagami even though many of the same issues of decolonization, brutality and mismanagement were in play domestically rather than in exotic foreign lands. It seemed to me then, as it still does, that too many Canadians would rather focus on injustice and benighted thinking abroad rather than in their own community.

Today some politicians want us to believe that residential schools are behind us, part of the past. Current prime minster Justin Trudeau presents himself as a champion of Indigenous rights. Critics such as Indigenous children’s advocate Cindy Blackstock beg to differ. Mr. Trudeau would do well at this time to better historicize the enduring role played by governments led by his Liberal party in residential school management in cooperation with several Christian churches.

At a recent virtual meeting in the aftermath of the revelations concerning the Kamloops 215 Anishinaabe Elder Edna Manitowabi, professor emerita of Indigenous Studies at Trent University, a residential school survivor and cultural worker, implored her audience that it was time for the truth to come out:

“I ask the citizens of this country. It is time to do something. It is a heavy thing, a crime, a national crime.”

At the conclusion of The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, Mr. Dylan sings:

“Bury the rag deep in your face, for now’s the time for your tears.”

In our current national tragedy, tears, especially Indigenous tears, are understandable, but as Dr. Manitowabi asserted the hard, painful, vitally important work of truth recognition must begin in earnest for many non-Indigenous Canadians.

James Cullingham is an adjunct graduate faculty member of Canadian Studies and Indigenous Studies at Trent University, a professor at Seneca College and president of Tamarack Productions in Nogojiwanong – Peterborough Ontario. He directed and produced Duncan Campbell Scott – The Poet and The Indians (Tamarack-NFB 1995). This autumn he will release a book Two Dead White Men – Duncan Campbell Scott, Jacques Soustelle and the Failure of  Indigenous Policy and a documentary film The Cost of Freedom – Refugee Journalists in Canada.

Source: http://activehistory.ca/2021/06/now-aint-the-time-for-your-tears/

Canada’s tragic residential-school reckoning could be grim harbinger for U.S.

Of note. Will reinforce efforts here I suspect:

It took just two weeks for the first Indigenous cabinet member in American history to publicly express her deep personal dismay at the grim residential school revelations emanating from north of the border.

It was only another 11 days before Deb Haaland, one of the first Native Americans ever elected to Congress and President Joe Biden’s newly appointed secretary of the interior, took matters into her own hands.

“The department shall undertake an investigation of the loss of human life and the lasting consequences of residential Indian boarding schools,” Haaland wrote in a memo last week.

“Only by acknowledging the past can we work toward a future we are all proud to embrace.”

In geopolitical terms, the time between Haaland’s June 22 memo and May 27 — the day a B.C. First Nation announced the grim discovery of the remains of 215 children at a former residential school — was the blink of an eye.

Rarely do developments on Canadian soil prompt such rapid, dramatic policy decisions in the U.S., a telling measure of magnitude for what Haaland’s investigation may uncover in a country where Indigenous issues are seldom considered front-page news.

“There is a reckoning happening,” said Chase Iron Eyes, a prominent U.S. Indigenous activist and lead counsel for the North Dakota-based Lakota People’s Law Project.

“They don’t teach this in schools — not in Canadian schools, not in American schools — that there are mass graves of children at church-run, government-sponsored residential schools and boarding schools.

“And now we’re no longer able to hide from those truths.”

Haaland’s own heritage doubtless helped move things along.

“My great-grandfather was taken to Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania,” Haaland wrote in a moving column in the Washington Post this month that opened with the news out of Canada.

“Its founder coined the phrase, ‘Kill the Indian, and save the man,’ which genuinely reflects the influences that framed these policies at the time.”

It’s a chilling echo of words frequently attributed to Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald — “take the Indian out of the child” — in his 19th century defence of Canada’s residential school system.

The similarities between the systems that existed in Canada and the U.S. likely don’t stop there.

“I think the scale, in terms of sheer numbers, is fairly comparable,” said Circe Sturm, an anthropology professor and Indigenous issues specialist at the University of Texas at Austin.

By the turn of the century, after the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs had taken over Indigenous schooling from the Christian missionaries who started the effort, the department was operating 147 day schools and 81 boarding schools on U.S. reservations, and another 25 boarding schools off-reserve, Sturm said.

In Canada, an estimated 150,000 Indigenous children are believed to have attended one of about 150 residential schools that operated between the 1880s and when the last one closed in 1996.

Haaland’s “Indian Boarding School Initiative” will seek to identify all of the schools that were part of the program, with a particular emphasis on “any records relating to cemeteries or potential burial sites … which may later be used to assist in locating unidentified human remains.”

The department will also liaise with Indigenous communities across the U.S., including in Alaska and Hawaii, on how best to handle any such remains, with plans for a final report by April of next year.

“Many who survived the ordeal returned home changed in unimaginable ways, and their experiences still resonate across the generations,” Haaland wrote.

“The work outlined will shed light on the scope of that impact.”

The potential scale of the situation in Canada took a dramatic turn Thursday when the Cowessess First Nation announced the discovery of what are believed to be 751 unmarked graves at the site of the former Marieval Indian Residential School on southern Saskatchewan.

That news generated uncommon media interest Friday in the U.S., where the Post played it on the front page and the New York Times devoted a full inside page to coverage of the discovery, as well as Haaland’s announcement.

Sturm demurred when asked whether she expects broad change in U.S. attitudes toward Indigenous Peoples on a scale comparable to last year’s social upheaval in the wake of the death of George Floyd.

“I suspect that many Americans will struggle with the hard truth about the founding of this country — some by choosing to ignore it, others with guilt and anger,” she said.

“But because we are talking about the senseless death of children, there is a good chance that a significant number of Americans would be moved enough to insist on action.”

If such discoveries are what it takes to finally end public complacency about the plight of Indigenous Peoples in Canada, so be it, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggested Friday.

The federal government intends to help with “the healing and the fixing of the generations of trauma that Canadians have all too often turned an eye from, all too often shrugged away from,” Trudeau said.

“And if it took discovering these graves for Canadians to wake up to how much we need to continue to do, then that perhaps gives us a starting point to continue to do even more.”‘

Indigenous leaders in Canada have been pressing Trudeau to secure an apology, on Canadian soil, from Pope Francis himself for the role the Catholic Church played in operating residential schools.

Those demands — which Trudeau repeated again Friday — have so far gone unheeded. But they may carry more weight if, in the fullness of time, Biden is in a position to join the call.

“I think Trudeau and Biden together is a stronger force than either of them alone. I do believe that,” Iron Eyes said.

“We need those calls to come from within the Christian community, because those ‘ideals’ upon which these countries were founded were very much informed by Christian and Western theology and world views.”

Source: Canada’s tragic residential-school reckoning could be grim harbinger for U.S.

US to review Native American boarding schools’ dark history

Of note as USA also confronts this sad part of its history:

The federal government will investigate its past oversight of Native American boarding schools and work to “uncover the truth about the loss of human life and the lasting consequences” of policies that over the decades forced hundreds of thousands of children from their families and communities, U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced Tuesday.

The unprecedented work will include compiling and reviewing records to identify past boarding schools, locate known and possible burial sites at or near those schools, and uncover the names and tribal affiliations of students, she said.

“To address the intergenerational impact of Indian boarding schools and to promote spiritual and emotional healing in our communities, we must shed light on the unspoken traumas of the past no matter how hard it will be,” Haaland said.

A member of New Mexico’s Laguna Pueblo and the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary, Haaland outlined the initiative while addressing members of the National Congress of American Indians during the group’s midyear conference.

She said the process will be long, difficult and painful and will not undo the heartbreak and loss endured by many families.

Starting with the Indian Civilization Act of 1819, the U.S. enacted laws and policies to establish and support Indian boarding schools across the nation. For over 150 years, Indigenous children were taken from their communities and forced into boarding schools that focused on assimilation.

Haaland talked about the federal government’s attempt to wipe out tribal identity, language and culture and how that past has continued to manifest itself through long-standing trauma, cycles of violence and abuse, premature deaths, mental health issues and substance abuse.

The recent discovery of children’s remains buried at the site of what was once Canada’s largest Indigenous residential school has magnified interest in the troubling legacy both in Canada and the United States.

In Canada, more than 150,000 First Nations children were required to attend state-funded Christian schools as part of a program to assimilate them into society. They were forced to convert to Christianity and were not allowed to speak their languages. Many were beaten and verbally abused, and up to 6,000 are said to have died.

After reading about the unmarked graves in Canada, Haaland recounted her own family’s story in a recent opinion piece published by the Washington Post.

Haaland cited statistics from the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, which reported that by 1926, more than 80% of Indigenous school-age children were attending boarding schools that were run either by the federal government or religious organizations. Besides providing resources and raising awareness, the coalition has been working to compile additional research on U.S. boarding schools and deaths that many say is sorely lacking.

Interior Department officials said aside from trying to shed more light on the loss of life at the boarding schools, they will be working to protect burial sites associated with the schools and will consult with tribes on how best to do that while respecting families and communities.

As part of the initiative, a final report from agency staff is due by April 1, 2022.

Chuck Hoskin Jr., principal chief of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, which had about 80 boarding schools, called the announcement encouraging and said anything that can be done to address those “troubling chapters of history” is a positive thing.

“I hope we don’t discover gruesome incidents like were discovered in Canada. I just think it’s good in this country to have conversations about what happened to Native American children,” Hoskin said.

Navajo Nation President Nez also offered his support for the initiative, noting discrimination against Native Americans continues today on many fronts — from voter suppression to high numbers of missing and murdered people.

“Last week, Congress and President Biden established ‘Juneteenth’ as a national holiday, in observance of the end of slavery, which I fully support as a means to healing the African American community,” Nez said. “Now, from my perspective as a Navajo person, there are so many atrocities and injustices that have been inflicted upon Native Americans dating back hundreds of years to the present day that also require national attention, so that the American society in general is more knowledgeable and capable of understanding the challenges that we face today.”

This is not the first time the federal government has attempted to acknowledge what Haaland referred to as a “dark history.”

More than two decades ago, Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Kevin Gover issued an apology for the emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual violence committed against children at the off-reservation schools. Then in 2009, President Barack Obama quietly signed off on an apology of sorts that was buried deep in a multibillion-dollar defense spending bill; the language had been watered down from the original legislation introduced years earlier.

Source: US to review Native American boarding schools’ dark history

Paris: The discovery of the unmarked graves brings us face to face with our suppressed history

Erna Paris’s book, Long Shadows: Truth, Lies and History, inspired the Canadian House of Commons motion to apologize, on behalf of the government, to survivors of Canadian residential schools

Good commentary, with an appropriate caution regarding erasing history.

Money quote:

“But history neither begins, nor ends. It is a cumulative record of people, events and changing ideas that cannot be buried. It can only be managed – with factual truth, contextual understanding and a commitment to change direction. This will be best accomplished by adding interpretative material to disputed monuments to enhance a layered comprehension of our country’s less-than-honourable past.

We are again reminded that the forced assimilation of devalued peoples will always fail, for humans cannot change their inner selves the way a snake sheds its skin. In his 2008 statement, former prime minister Stephen Harper said, “The apology today is founded upon … the recognition that we all own our own lives and destinies, the only true foundation for a society where peoples can flourish.””

Two Solitudes. That was the title of Hugh MacLennan’s famous 1945 book about the chasm between Quebec and the “Rest of Canada” – a fault line that has been negotiated continuously since the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759. But what if there were three solitudes all along, the third being the Indigenous nations that were suffering cultural decimation far below the radar of most Canadians? I was born and raised in Ontario and never heard, or read, a word about residential schools during close to two decades of schooling. Textbooks referenced the original Indian wars, but what happened to the Indigenous populations as the entity known as Canada emerged was obscured.

Over the past two decades, Canadians have gradually learned the fate of the 150,000 children who were forcibly removed from their homes and placed in residential schools run by often abusive religious authorities, mainly Catholic. The purpose of the schools was to forcibly assimilate the children by all means possible – language, dress, culture – and to be in breach of the rules was to court punishment. We now know that the children living in these 139 institutions were underfed, that many were subject to sexual assault, and that disease, neglect and abuse killed at least 6,000 of them.

On June 11, 2008, the government of Canada mounted a moving spectacle to apologize for the treatment Indigenous Canadians had received. The apology was meant to be a symbolic turning point. It even had a follow up: a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, whose primary goals were to acknowledge and record the residential school experience, including its consequences; to provide emotional support for individuals wishing to come forward with their stories; and to educate the Canadian public about this previously occulted history.

The broadcast sessions of the TRC were affecting. But there was a structural flaw: they included no accountability for what had occurred. The Stephen Harper government had carefully excluded legal culpability from the Commission’s formal mandate. The TRC would “not hold formal hearings, nor act as a public inquiry, nor conduct a formal legal process…”

What this meant was that the perpetrators – primarily the Catholic churches – were paradoxically allowed to behave like social workers, comforting the survivors as they completed their personal testimony. Yes, individual bishops had issued apologies, but the Catholic Church, the Vatican, had not, and no one was accountable. How much more compelling it would have been had Canadians been allowed to watch the upper echelons of the clergy testify about what they knew about gross breaches of human rights and possible criminal behaviour, even if the original perpetrators were dead? The Harper government may have rightly feared evidence that Canadian governments knew about these abuses and did nothing. It is to be noted that as early as 1907 a lawyer who conducted a review of the schools told Duncan Campbell Scott, then deputy superintendent-general of Indian Affairs, “Doing nothing to obviate the preventable causes of death brings the Department within unpleasant nearness to the charge of manslaughter.”

Fast forward to June, 2021, and more words of remorse by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. A radar search had uncovered the remains of 215 children at the Kamloops Indian Residential School and it is widely assumed that there are thousands more elsewhere.

The discovery of the bodies of maltreated nameless children has unleashed a cascade of grief among Canadians, as though the truth of what was revealed at the TRC hearings has only now become visceral. The deaths of children abused and neglected by their caregivers touches a chord. That this continued for a century in our land of “peace, order, and good government” has elicited outrage that will be assuaged only by a process of accountability. A group of Canadian lawyers has already asked the International Criminal Court to investigate the Vatican and the Canadian government for crimes against humanity. According to Asad Kiyani, assistant professor of law at the University of Victoria, there might also be grounds for domestic prosecutions for manslaughter.

In my own study of five countries that had to confront shame-producing historical truths, Canada may be unique. Unlike those who participated in authorized attacks on devalued minorities, or watched as bystanders, then struggled to create a narrative of who they were in light of what was done, Canadians were kept in the dark by successive governments that opted to efface history by means of isolated residential schools and sanitized text books. Today, there is little, if any, debate in this country about the need to make substantive amends. This does not absolve us from knowing that what was done to Indigenous children was done in our names, nor does it erase the reality of continuing racism – a prolongation of the 19th-century attitudes that produced the schools in the first place. There has been progress since the TRC issued its report in 2015, but in light of what we have recently learned, we must put pressure on government and the churches to provide all requested documentation to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. Anything less than full disclosure will be seen as stonewalling.

Unsurprisingly, the question of what to do about monuments that honour those who initiated human rights abuses has intensified. A statue to the 19th-century educator, Egerton Ryerson, who helped create the residential school system and is the namesake of a Toronto university, was torn down earlier this week. Just days earlier, a picture circulated of a statue of Sir John A. MacDonald being carted away in Charlottetown, looking not unlike the French monarch, Louis XVI, in a tumbrel en route to the guillotine. There are persuasive arguments for removing the late Ryerson, although, to his credit, he was also known for promoting free education. But we, too, should be careful about excising history. Although he operated according to the repugnant “White Man’s Burden” ideology of his age, MacDonald was the lead figure in the creation of Canada and our first prime minister. To “remove” him is to reject the origins of a shared country. The French revolutionaries also believed they could sluice away history: they even devised a new calendar, starting with Year One. In our own day, the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama fantasized that the Cold War victory of liberal democracy indicated “the end of history.”

But history neither begins, nor ends. It is a cumulative record of people, events and changing ideas that cannot be buried. It can only be managed – with factual truth, contextual understanding and a commitment to change direction. This will be best accomplished by adding interpretative material to disputed monuments to enhance a layered comprehension of our country’s less-than-honourable past.

We are again reminded that the forced assimilation of devalued peoples will always fail, for humans cannot change their inner selves the way a snake sheds its skin. In his 2008 statement, former prime minister Stephen Harper said, “The apology today is founded upon … the recognition that we all own our own lives and destinies, the only true foundation for a society where peoples can flourish.”

These were fine words, but words will no longer suffice.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-the-discovery-of-the-unmarked-graves-brings-us-face-to-face-with-our/