The Office of Indian Affairs established the first Native American Residential School in 1860 on the Yakima Indian Reservation (now Yakama) in Yakama, Washington. Soon after, in 1879, Congress established the first off-reserve Native American residential school, the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The purpose of these residential schools, and many others, was to force Native Americans to assimilate into the mainstream culture – to adopt a mid-19th century Protestant ideology. In 1926, 83% of Indian school-aged children attended one of 367 residential schools in 29 states. The result has been the systematic destruction of Native American cultures and languages, trauma, the use of abusive punishments, and even death from tuberculosis and influenza. Today, Native Americans are either residential school survivors or they are probably a generation of someone who attended residential school. Many of these residential schools, which are the source of historical and current trauma for Native Americans, did not close until the 1970s.
The American Indian College Fund (College Fund), the nation’s largest charity supporting Indigenous higher education (including 35 tribal colleges and universities), and the National Native American Boarding School (NABS) Healing Coalition have joined forces forces to offer scholarships to descendants of a boarding school. survivors. The College Fund and NABS awarded 20 scholarships of $ 3,000 each during the 2021-2022 academic year. The scholarships recognize the experiences of residential school survivors and allow families to reunite and heal. During the application process, the students – who must be U.S. citizens, tribesmen, or descendants of federally or state-recognized tribes – shared a 500-word essay on their relationship with a survivor of a boarding school in their family. This process was designed to promote healing, while recognizing the impact of this trauma on the lives of families.
Terri Lee Medina, scholarship recipient and registered member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska who is studying business at Little Priest College in Winnebago, Nebraska, said, “I was raised by my grandmother and I remember that my gaga often described the abuse she suffered at school. She said she had nightmares about that time and how she fled on foot. She walked miles and miles, hitchhiked, and walked the railroad tracks to Winnebago because of her fear of being caught and sent back to boarding school. Medina added that her grandmother “said the nuns and priests were horrible and did terrible things to Native American children; they hit them with rulers even slapped them in the face. There has been sexual, verbal and physical abuse that has taken place. One story that stood out for Medina involved that her grandmother got into trouble for speaking a few words in her native language. A nun hit her grandmother with a ruler because she spoke her language. However, as Medina shared, her grandmother grabbed the ruler and hit the nun in return.
According to Cheryl Crazy Bull, President of the College Fund, “It is well documented that children and youth have suffered all kinds of abuse. Assimilation was a tool used to ensure that Indigenous resources could be harnessed. The taking of land and access to food resources, as well as the withdrawal of indigenous peoples from their homeland are rooted in the genocidal practices of war, the deliberate spread of disease and the deeply held belief of European colonizers in the superiority of their homeland. race.
Tom SwiftBird, also a fellow and member of the Oglala Sioux tribe who studies Tribal Legal Studies at Oglala Lakota College, said: “My great uncles were often hungry at the Rapid City boarding school. They were stealing food from the pantry at night. At one point, some of them tried to escape to the Pine Ridge Reservation. They got caught up in a winter storm and some lost toes and fingers from frostbite. He continued, “After talking with my grandmother, [I learned] the boarding school was mostly negative: a place where she and her family were mistreated and lonely. Although even in a negative environment, Swiftbird mentioned that her grandmother saw some positives. She loved to learn and for the first time in her life she had access to a library of books.
SwiftBird shared some of the long-term impacts of attending boarding school, noting that many of her loved ones “suffer from addictions later in life.” Research shows that trauma from residential schools often results in addiction and other challenges in the lives of survivors.
Swiftbird also noted “I think [my family’s] feelings were also complicated about Lakota culture. They saw a lot of beauty in the return to culture; yet, having understood that all that Lakota was bad during their formative years bore marks even through their old age. When he was in college, taking Lakota lessons, learning to speak, his grandmother had difficulty practicing and speaking with him. She appreciated the way the Lakota language was going through a revival. She said she “liked seeing more and more shirts and caps labeled Native Pride.” Still. Swiftbird lamented that even then her grandmother “had trouble speaking the Lakota language” because the speakers were punished for using it and “it was made off as a bad thing at boarding school.” SwiftBird proudly added: “I’m going to school for my grandmother because she couldn’t finish, and I will be successful for her.”
Tribal colleges and universities, which grew out of the Native American self-determination movement of the 1970s, and the American Indian College Fund support academic achievement, student personal identity, and strong self-esteem in response to societal issues and cultural. distress that residential schools cultivated. According to Crazy Bull, “boarding schools, as a deliberate and largely successful effort to disrupt [the Native] lifestyle, force us to take the same kind of deliberate approach to restorative practices.
Another fellow – Jonni Mondragon – also a member of the Blackfeet Nation and a student at Bay Mills Community College majoring in psychology, said: “My father was a student at Cut Bank Boarding School from 1965 to 1969, from 6 to 10 years old. He had an extremely negative experience while there, and I think it affected his whole life and his family…. he explained that it was like prison, and that “everything that happens in prison, happened there”. She said the program helps students “change their own narratives and restore what has been learned from [their families] by residential schools.
Unlike the education imposed on native people, tribal colleges and universities – institutions created by and for Native Americans – incorporate cultural knowledge, history and symbolism. They also offer community outreach courses and restorative college courses, such as degrees in Native American Arts and Native American Studies. The College Fund’s Crazy Bull reminds us: “Because residential schools existed for the express purpose of eliminating Indigenous identity to force assimilation, as educators we need to impart cultural knowledge and practice cultural traditions. “