With the founding of the Carlisle Indian School at Carlisle, Pennsylvania in 1879, Colonel Richard Henry Pratt ushered in the Boarding School Era, a period extending for approximately 100 years in which Native children were separated from their parents and placed in an off-reservation boarding school. Pratt’s now-infamous motto about Native American children, “Kill the Indian in him and save the man,” (frequently shortened to “Kill the Indian to save the man,”) summed up his destructive philosophy neatly, and would be adopted by the United States government (and Canada), its schools, and the religious schools it paid to take Native children away from their tribes.
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Forced assimilation is too kind a word to sum up the boarding school experience. Children were forced to abandon their native languages, punished severely if they didn’t, had their hair shorn, forced into western clothing and rarely saw their parents for years at a time. Abuse was rampant, and survivors testifying to Congress in the early 20th century through today will speak of the emotional dysfunction they carry with them due to being ripped from their families and cultures.
In 2016 the Premier of Canada issued a formal apology to the First Nations people as part of its national reconciliation process.
The state of Maine has also embarked on a reconciliation process for its governmental handling of Indian kids.
The pain and emotional distress inflicted on generations of kids still reverberates today, and is a major factor in the research and understanding historical trauma. Such groups as the Boarding School Healing Coalition work with boarding school survivors and their descendants as a means of better coping with the emotional and physical abuse, and the longstanding losses of culture, language and community. Many Native social workers point to the boarding school experience as major factors in the prevalence of broken homes, alcohol and substance abuse and domestic violence that plagues some tribal nations today.
Rutherford B. Hayes’ four years in the White House, from 1877 to 1881, marked a distinct change in federal Indian policy, as the government moved away from forced removal of Indians to reservations and toward a system that allotted land to individuals.
Billed as a solution to the government’s hunger...