History of Separating Families and Stealing Children

Here, in McAllen, Texas, indigenous people fleeing violence and seeking asylum are, right now, locked in chain-link cages and lying on concrete floors, where the sound of frightened, crying kids and mothers and fathers fearing for their children is eerily audible if you just listen closely.

As Native Americans, we have a unique perspective on such cruel American government policies that rip brown babies from their mothers’ arms and, in some cases, turn them over to white families to raise in the white way.

But this type of evil behavior — separating families and stealing children — is nothing new, says Juan Mancias, the tribal chairman of the Carrizo Comecrudo Tribe of Texas. “They’ve been doing [this] for 500 years,” he said. McAllen is on Mancias’s ancestral territory.

“When [the white people] came we didn’t consider any of them illegal,” he said. “We were open to them. They were two-legged; we knew they were relatives.” But it didn’t take long, he said, before “they began taking our women and children and killing our men. Then we got an idea of who they really were.”

There were no walls or borders or prison camps until the white man came. Now they’re everywhere — and that’s not patriotism, that’s hate.

Trump’s immigration policy is caging indigenous children. This is the America Native people know. By Simon Moya-Smith, NBC News, July 28, 2019

In the late 1800’s a policy to take Indian children from their homes to boarding schools was begun. There were a number of reasons for this, but mainly to train Indian children to adapt to the ways of the white settlers, so they could fit into the culture of the people who were taking over Native lands. But “take” the children is a euphemism for what most often happened, which was taking the children away from their families by force.

Quakers were among other faith communities who were involved with the Indian Boarding schools. My experience is that many Friends know little if anything about the Quaker Indian Boarding Schools. Those that do assume those involved with those schools acted with the good intentions, and documents from that time support this. As it says below, though, good intentions can cause very significant, multigenerational damage.

I know many will be upset by what I am going to say, but I believe it was wrong to participate in this forced assimilation process. If we believe there is that of God in everyone, how could we justify forcing our will on any other person? “Kill the Indian, save the man” was the oft-heard phrase uttered by Captain Richard H. Pratt, a soldier in the U.S. Army and firm believer in the policy of assimilation for Native Americans. This is what happens when we don’t seek spiritual guidance, but rely on what’s in our head instead of our heart.

Although for a different stated purpose today, children are again being forcibly ripped from their parents’ arms. Truth telling is the first step in reconciliation. We need to face the truth about the “forced assimilation.” of the past. If we had done that, perhaps this current tragedy might not be happening.

More than 100,000 Native children suffered the direct consequences of the federal government’s policy of forced assimilation by means of Indian boarding schools during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Their bereft parents, grandparents, siblings, and entire communities also suffered. As adults, when the former boarding school students had children, their children suffered, too. Now, through painful testimony and scientific research, we know how trauma can be passed from generation to generation. The multigenerational trauma of the boarding school experience is an open wound in Native communities today

Quaker Indian Boarding Schools; Facing Our History and Ourselves”, Paula Palmer, Friends Journal, October, 2016.

If you send your children to our schools we will train them to get along in this changing world. We will educate them.

We had no choice. They took our children. Some ran away and froze to death. If they were found they were dragged back to the school and punished. They cut their hair, took away their language, until they became strangers to us.

Harjo, Joy. Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings: Poems (p. 78). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.
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