by Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Native Condition. Discussion »
It is fair to say the average American has never heard of how the government agents showed up at American Indian homes to tell parents they had to send their school-aged children to schools, sometimes many times hundreds of miles from home.
It is fair to say the average American has reasonable knowledge of how African Americans were slaves, toiling long hours in the heat, picking cotton and doing other jobs given to them by their masters.
This point was made two weekends ago at the Boarding School Healing Symposium at the University of Colorado School of Law School by one of the participants, Don Coyhis (Mohican Nation), founder and president of White Bison, Inc when he said:
“All school children graduate knowing about slavery in the United States and its devastating effects on black people and the human toll of the Civil War. No student should graduate high school without knowing about this period of American history and its devastating effects as well.”
Coyhis was one of the more than 30 representatives from the Boarding School Healing Project, Native American Rights Fund, American Indian Law Clinic at the University of Colorado Law School, and Human Rights Clinic at the University of Wyoming and other organizations that came together to this historic symposium.
Weekend “Boarding School Healing Symposium” Underway in Boulder
American Indians and the On-going Effects of the Boarding School Period
Saginaw Chippewa Tribe and Ziibiwing Center Release Boarding School Curriculum
Saginaw Chippewa Tribe to Accept Conveyance of Closed Boarding School
700 Possible Indian Children Remains Cause Concern for Tribal Officials
The goal of the attendees was to create a framework for healing from the abuses suffered by American Indian children as a result of the United States boarding school policy.
We should know there are various reasons why American Indian children were sent to boarding schools. Not all were the result of a government agent showing up at the door of an Indian home to take the children. Sometimes, American Indian parents sent their children to the boarding schools out the necessity to survive poverty. The parents thought the children would get three meals a day - when they could not afford to feed them - plus an education.
Paul Owns the Sabre - Lakota
This was the case for Paul Owns the Sabre (Lakota). Owns the Sabre, 71, who lives in San Francisco, is traveling across America with the Longest Walk 3 - Reversing Diabetes. He is one of the original 26 American Indians who walked all the way across the country with Dennis Banks in the first Longest Walk in 1978. He knows this Longest Walk is his last.
Owns the Sabre told me his story about being placed in a boarding school at the age of seven when his mother could not afford to feed him and his siblings after the death of their father. His father fought in World War II in the US Army and died two years after his return to South Dakota. Left a widow with three young children to feed, his mother sent two of her children to the Pierre Indian School in South Dakota. Owns the Sabre was there for four years straight - even during the summers.
Owns the Sabre recalls how he hated every second of it during the four years he was there. The teachers at the Pierre Indian School were mean and beat Indian children, according to Owns the Sabre.
He attributes the subsequent struggle he had with alcohol and the estrangement he had with his mother to being placed at the Indian boarding school. For years, he was angry and did not want anything to do with his mother. He stayed away from her for 27 years.
Then, one year before his mother died, he called her to meet and reconcile. Eventually, he went dry. He has not had a drink about 25 years. He said dancing in the sun dance helped him overcome his urge to drink alcohol.
This April - on their way from Portland, Oregon on their way to Washington - the Long Walkers stopped by the Pierre Indian School while in South Dakota.
Owns the Sabre was apprehensive about even visiting the school. He decided to visit and, to his surprise, discovered he felt indifferent while there. He was no longer angry. He proclaims a sort of coming to peace with his Indian boarding school experience.
Only Owns the Sabre can begin to sort out the convoluted journey to get to where he is today. Maybe, even he cannot because he said he did not know he would feel the indifference.
The point is the United States Indian boarding schools policy story must be moved into the American consciousness. The US Indian boarding schools policy helps to explain the decades of anger and pain the Paul Owns the Sabre knows so well.
The Boarding School Healing Symposium group is on the right track.
posted May 27, 2011 4:49 pm et
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