Today is the National Day of Remembrance for U.S. residential schools. Unfortunately this day is not officially recognized by government, but it should be. This day is to be an annual commemoration to honor the children who died while attending residential schools and the survivors, families, and communities still affected.
WHAT ARE RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS?
Residential schools were government-sponsored boarding schools run by churches for Indigenous children, specifically designed to strip them of their culture and Indigenous identities and Christianize them. The schools’ motto was to “Kill the Indian, Save the Man.”
RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS WERE CALCULATED GENOCIDE OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLE & CULTURE
Churches & white settlers saw the socio-cultural differences between white and Indigenous people proof they were “savages” and in need of civilization/saving by white people. Robbing Indigenous populations of their children and their children of their culture (and lives) was the intentional way of eliminating the Indigenous from North America. From 1879-1996, hundreds of thousands Indigenous children aged 4-16 were forced to attend residential schools . Thousands of children died .
WHAT HAPPENED AT RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS?
In short, Indigenous children were tortured. They were forbidden to speak their native languages, forced to pray and practice Christianity, fed terribly (e.g. served spoiled food) or not at all, given electric shocks, sexually and physically assaulted, force-fed their own vomit, not given proper clothing in freezing weather, forced labor in unsafe environments, withheld from family – physically and much contact .
These residential schools did not always even “Save the Man.” Many children did not survive these horrific conditions and died at the schools. To this day, Canada and the US are still discovering unmarked graves of thousands of Indigenous children who were killed by the schools and then buried without any notification to family or otherwise. These schools were actively committing Native genocide.
RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS WERE ALL OVER THE US & CANADA.
The US had over 370 residential schools.
THE LAST RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL CLOSED IN 1996.
You read that correctly. 1996. A little over 25 years ago. Residential schools are VERY recent history that continue to impact communities today. Survivors of the schools are still alive today—same with many teachers, priests, administrators, and other staff. It’s like that either you were alive when they were open and operating, or your parents were. This is not ancient, to-be-forgotten history. This just happened.
HOW CAN YOU SUPPORT?
Here are some suggestions directly from the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition (this page):
ADVOCATE FOR THE TRUTH AND HEALING COMMISSION ON INDIAN BOARDING SCHOOLS
- Resolutions: Work on having your Tribal Nation, organization, city, or other legislative bodies pass a resolution in support of a Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding Schools. If you are interested in templates for a resolution, please email us at email@example.com
- Political engagement: We encourage you to reach out to your Tribal Council, Senators, Representatives, national, state, and local politicians and speak with them about the history of Indian Boarding Schools, how they have impacted your family, and what you would like to see done on the topic. You can set a meeting with legislators, send emails, or start a letter or phone campaign.
ADVOCATE FOR EDUCATION ABOUT INDIAN BOARDING SCHOOLS
Advocate for schools to include the truth about Indian Boarding School history in their curriculum. You can find a copy of our free lesson plans for elementary, middle, and high school students which can be distributed to teachers and schools. For those looking to deepen their overall knowledge, please check out our:
- Recommended reading list, broken down into three parts: general history, decolonization, and books for children and youth; and
- Online Resource Database, which contains a variety of primary documents and media materials on Indian Boarding Schools.
STAY UP TO DATE:
Join their e-news to stay up to date on what is happening and ways to support the movement for boarding school healing.
Membership in the coalition is free. Join us in educating, advocating, and healing.
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