Much worse than I realized

I’ve been writing about the Native residential schools for years. The latest, horrible news is the discovery of the remains of 215 Native children at the Kamloops Residential School.

As another example of how much I admire and appreciate my Native friends, in the midst of all they face, in this re-opening of deepwounds, one friend took the time to respond to what I’ve been writing, offering me encouragement. He said “I’m trying not be enraged in my mourning.” And “we’ll figure something out.”

An article I highly recommend is The Tragedy of 215. Without truth, there can be no healing by Sarah Rose Harper, Lakota People’s Law Project, 06/02/2021 And as stated below from the Lakota People’s Law Project, Please sign and share our petition to Congress and the president. Tell them to form a Truth and Healing Commission today.

As much as I’ve studied the Native residential schools, I hadn’t understood the even more sinister reasons why they were created. It was horrible enough that the schools were created to destroy the children’s culture, and far too often their lives. The justification suggested by the government and churches was that they were attempting to help children adapt to white culture.

But I hadn’t really quite grasped that these atrocities, so cruelly implemented, were to break the resistance of Indigenous peoples. To force them to give up their lands. “Because the children would be hostages for the good behavior of their people.”

During the late 19th century Plains Indian Wars, the Indian boarding school found its primary purchase. The bloody consequences of two bedrock U.S. institutions — African slavery and the killing of Indians — inspired Carlisle’s founder, Richard Henry Pratt, a military man, to embark on a bold experiment to solve the so-called “Indian question,” once outright extermination was no longer palatable. Like many of his peers, Pratt was a Civil War veteran turned Indian fighter. And he came to regard Indian killing as he had slavery — as unsustainable. A radical solution was needed.

As the title of his autobiography — Battlefield and Classroom — suggests, Pratt transposed the Indian wars from the frontier to the boarding school. By removing Native children by the hundreds and then thousands from their families, he thought he could break the resistance of intransigent Native nations. Between 1879-1900, the Bureau of Indian Affairs opened 24 off-reservation schools. By 1900, three-quarters of all Native children had been enrolled in boarding schools, with a third of this number in off-reservation boarding schools like Carlisle. 

A U.S. military victory seemed unlikely. Tactics shifted to starving out the militant Lakotas by killing off the remaining buffalo herds, a primary food source, making reservation life not a choice but a necessity for survival. The next step was to undermine customary authority by weaponizing Native kinship systems against reservation leadership. “Carlisle was established to intern, so to speak, the children of leadership,” says Ben Rhodd, “to hold them as hostage, so that their fathers would not be so warlike and resist.”

Pratt’s success at Fort Marion convinced Indian reformers in Congress to authorize the Indian Bureau to turn the old Carlisle cavalry barracks into the first federally run off-reservation boarding school. It was a peculiar assignment: an active military officer overseeing a school administered by the civilian-run Department of the Interior, which itself managed wildlife and Indians. And the first class would be drawn from those most responsible for Custer’s crushing defeat, the Lakotas. In 1879, Commissioner of Indian Affairs Ezra Hayt ordered Pratt to recruit first from Pine Ridge and Rosebud, “because the children would be hostages for the good behavior of their people.”

The U.S. stole generations of Indigenous children to open the West. Indian boarding schools held Native American youth hostage in exchange for land cessions by Nick Estes, High Country News, Oct. 14, 2019

Residential schools were established in an attempt to erase Indigenous people, our culture and our very existence, from our own lands. We lived on these lands long before the arrival of European settlers and well before countries like Canada and the United States existed. Relocating Native nations to remote areas and taking our lands was and is a grave injustice in and of itself. Taking children away from their families and trying to wipe away our native language and our very identity, often by force and violence, is a hate crime. These hate crimes can never and should never be forgotten. There are many Native people around the world, including many Senecas, who still carry the scars and terror of those days. Discoveries like the one at the Kamloops site re-open those wounds.

The terror our people face hasn’t ended. Today, countless Indigenous individuals are murdered or go missing across Indian Country. Our communities have long been the targets of violence, abuse and neglect. It must end.

We pray for the children whose bodies were discovered last week, for their families, and for all Indigenous people who have been the victims of violence and abuse, and for those who remain missing. They will never be forgotten and we will always fight in their memory.”

Seneca Nation statement on discovery of remains of more than 200 Indigenous children at Kamloops Residential School site
Discovery a gruesome reminder of the treatment and terror that generations of Indigenous people suffered at the hands of settlers on our own lands by PRESS POOL, Indian Country Today, June 2, 2021

Lakota People’s Law Project The Tragedy of 215 (

With a heavy heart but with clear eyes, I write to you today as Lakota Law’s newest team member. Global Indigenous communities are mourning over the recent discovery of a mass grave containing the human remains of 215 children at the Kamloops Indian Residential school in Canada. This discovery is not the first and will not be the last. Residential and boarding schools occupy a long and bloody, but recent, chapter in the story of Turtle Island’s colonization. The last school didn’t close until 1978.

This reality is not isolated to Canada. America has and will continue to discover similar tragedies. I therefore ask for your solidarity. Please sign and share our petition to Congress and the president. Tell them to form a Truth and Healing Commission today. America must begin to confront its own history of genocide and Indian boarding schools.

We did not stumble upon this undertaking. Our work grew from the same sense of urgency — shown to us by Lakota grandmothers as their grandkids were being stolen by the state — that you are now experiencing as you read about the children found in a mass grave at The Indian Residential School at Kamloops. This “breaking news” is an all-too-familiar reality for Indigenous children and families. Generations of Native communities have suffered from the deadly and traumatizing boarding school experience.

We should not be surprised that countries founded on the ideals of the Doctrine of Discovery — an ideology that supports the dehumanization of those living on the land and their dispossession, murder, and forced assimilation — would have so much to answer for.

I have written an article to attempt to explain this history and its present-day implications for allies. This is not an easy read. It was not an easy write. I wrote it to eliminate the need for any other Native person within our network to suffer by having to explain this senselessness. 

Wado — thank you for reckoning with the harsh realities we Indigneous People continue to endure. 
Sarah Rose
Social Media Coordinator
The Lakota People’s Law Project

This entry was posted in decolonize, Indigenous, residential schools, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Much worse than I realized

  1. Lara/Trace says:

    I thank you for posting about this. Not enough people know this part of our North American past.

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