Reliving the Pain of Native American Boarding Schools

Felix Stoll

Opinion

September 7, 2021

The summer of 2021 saw the reopening of many wounds. One such wound was the still fresh scars left on the Native American population from the long history of residential schools in the United States and Canada.

In the early 19th century America saw many campaigns aimed at “breeding out the Indian.” One such attempt came in the form of residential schools. These schools were used to house and reeducate Native American youth to achieve a more Euro-American way of thought and life. Oftentimes these children were taken away from their families on reservations in events such as “the 60s scoop.” Once in the boarding school the children were no longer allowed to learn their mother tongues, practice spirituality, or take part in any other forms of indigenous culture.

Along with stripping the children of their culture, the residential schools became well known for their rampant abuse. The child residents were psychologically tormented, beaten, raped and experimented on in all fashions. The poor conditions as well as the harsh circumstances the children were forced through inevitably led to many deaths.

Just 20 minutes from Alma in Mount Pleasant the remains of the Mount Pleasant Indian Industrial Boarding School still stands. The school operated from 1893 to 1934. Since its closing the building has served as a school for the developmentally disabled before it grew decrepit until the Saginaw Chippewa tribe bought the building and the land. Currently the building serves as a museum run by the tribe.

The United States and Canada both discovered countless bodies from these institutions over the summer, sparking discussions and education regarding the residential schools and their role in systematic racism.

Many of the questions brought to light by the recent news have been directed at the governments of the United States and Canada. People want to know why there were continued efforts to keep the public from learning about the sinister history of the boarding schools. Additionally, people would like to know why there hasn’t been true improvement in the way the indigenous population is treated.

Still today, many Natives are unable to fully reconnect with their culture and families due to the trauma sustained from the residential schools. Records have been lost, languages left untaught, and families have been torn apart. They are left feeling the pain of their ancestors and believing that they have no community.

Many families have stories of relatives who spoke poorly of their indigeneity and lived out a bitter life full of lasting torment from their time at a residential school. All this was the intent of the boarding schools in the first place: to wipe out the indigenous peoples.

Continued healing must take the forefront. As people strive to educate themselves and future generations on the accurate histories of our nations, they must remember to let native voices be heard the loudest, but also extend patience as these are painful subjects. Hold governments and people accountable for their harmful actions and continued silence on issues—let them be aware that discounted land full of trauma is not a fruitful method for healing the wounds of the past. Advocate for education that includes the hardships of those with a rich history predating the establishment of the United States and Canada. These are only the most simple ways to take back the narrative and assure history will not be repeated.

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