An important of part of Truthsgiving is educating ourselves and others. One of the worst things inflicted on native peoples was forced assimilation. Native children were forcibly removed from their families and taken long distances to residential schools. The schools intended to erase the children’s indigenous culture and replace it with that of the colonizers’. Cultural genocide. There was widespread physical, emotional and sexual abuse, and death.
For years now I’ve been doing research related to the Indian boarding/residential schools in this country and Canada. This has been a spiritual leading, to try to understand why Quakers, some of my ancestors, participated in this forced assimilation.
I’ve learned a lot from my friend Paula Palmer’s research and writings. In 2016 her article, Quaker Indian Boarding Schools, Facing our History and Ourselves, was published in Friends Journal. Last year I was among those who helped her give her presentations and workshops related to “Toward Right Relationship with Native Peoples” in Iowa and Nebraska.
But I discovered there was much I didn’t know when I read the article quoted below, Why We Must Honor the Lost Children of Turtle Island written my friend Christine Nobiss.
I’ve been led to talk with each of my native friends, at one time or another, to say I was aware of the Quakers’ role in forced assimilation and the boarding schools. I told each one I was sorry the Quakers had done that. In almost every case, my friend would tell me stories of how they and their families had been impacted. Christine told me some of her family’s history.
Sikowis (Christine Nobiss), MA (Religious Studies), Plains Cree/Saulteaux of the George Gordon First Nation and Founder of Great Plains Action Society, is adding to the collective voice of Indigenous people all over the country fighting to keep their children within their own families and communities.
Every year, for the past sixteen years, the day before Thanksgiving, the community of Sioux City, Iowa comes together to march the streets in honor of Indigenous children that have been taken from their families and placed into settler imposed institutions. It is called the March for Lost Children where hundreds gather to memorialize Native American youth who have been taken from their families and placed in the country’s child-welfare system. The goal is to “raise awareness and ultimately reunite displaced Native American children with their home tribes and families.”
The history of how we have so many lost children of Turtle Island is harsh and disturbing but still largely whitewashed from settler descendant society. Countless Native American children were initially lost during the first wave of invasion known as bio-warfare. Disease brought from Europe by invaders swept across the land and decimated the Indigenous population before actual contact. Afterward, invasion continued with war (16th – 19th centuries), treaties (1608-1830), removal (1830-1850), reservations (1850-1871), assimilation (1871-1928), reorganization (1928-1942) and, termination (1943-1968). All these periods of enforced assimilation through government and ecclesiastical policy had a direct effect on the health and safety of Indigenous children. Again, countless numbers of Indigenous children were lost forever directly from war, the loss of their homeland and brutal assimilation tactics. Not to mention, “frontier-culture” emerged as a result of westward expansion where settler vigilantes and colonial militias maniacally and indiscriminately tortured and killed Indigenous children. There are stories of men ripping unborn babies out of their mothers stomachs or torturing children to death in front of their parents. Indigenous children were considered less than human and not held sacred in any way in the mass consciousness of the settler invaders.
Boarding schools played a massive role in the process of assimilation, “beginning in 1887, the federal government attempted to “Americanize” Native Americans, largely through the education of Native youth. By 1900, thousands of Native Americans were studying at almost 150 boarding schools around the United States.” (History Matters) Richard Pratt, founder of Carlisle Boarding School, clearly portrayed this American sentiment in his famous 1892 paper. He wrote, “A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one, and that high sanction of his destruction has been an enormous factor in promoting Indian massacres. 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.” (History Matters) Due to such “insight” and motivated by the ideology of manifest destiny or the doctrine of discovery, children were torn from their homes and forced into horrifically abusive situations where they were beaten, molested, and even murdered while being reshaped into the image of European Christians.
By the 1930’s, the era of Native American self-determination began to emerge with the eventual rise of the Red Power social movement of the 1960’s and 70’s that led to the “restoration of tribal community, self-government, cultural renewal, reservation development, educational control, and equal or controlling input into federal government decisions concerning policies and programs.” (Native American Self-Determination). Out of this era, to combat the the high number of children being taken, Native Americans pushed for ICWA which was written into law in 1978. The National Indian Child Welfare Association has stated that:
“the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) was enacted in 1978 in response to a crisis affecting American Indian and Alaska Native children, families, and tribes. Studies revealed that large numbers of Native children were being separated from their parents, extended families, and communities by state child welfare and private adoption agencies. In fact, research found that 25%–35% of all Native children were being removed; of these, 85% were placed outside of their families and communities—even when fit and willing relatives were available.” (NICWA)Why We Must Honor the Lost Children of Turtle Island
Christine and Manape were on the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March that I also participated in September, 2018. It was a great honor to hear Manape’s father, Frank LaMere speak with us one evening.