Indian Country must push back against conservative attempts to whitewash residential school history
By Levi Rickert
Opinion. About 30 years ago I made a deal with myself to read at least one book a year by a right-wing conservative so I could try to understand the logic behind their positions on race relations and government policy. As the years passed and the United States became extremely polarized, I stopped reading conservative writings because I found that many of their arguments lacked merit and were, quite often, mean-spirited and tainted with paternalistic attitudes towards people of color.
So last Monday, when one of my business partners sent me a link to an article titled, “Fueling Hate Against Indian Boarding Schools: Home Office Joins Movement to Rebrand Education as Cultural Genocide,” I read with some hesitation. published by The American Conservativethe article was written by one of the magazine’s editors, Helen Andrews.
Andrews challenges the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative’s investigative report that was released on May 11, 2022. She accuses the US Department of the Interior of making a big deal out of nothing.
“This attempt to create a national scandal over Indian boarding schools is an entirely political ploy devised by activists to stir up outrage, regardless of the facts. No surprise there, because that’s what the problem has always been, from the very beginning,” writes Andrews.
“What’s strange about the residential schools outrage is that for decades the problem just didn’t exist,” she continues.
Andrews is wrong. Native Americans have known about the problem of boarding schools for more than a century. In most tribal communities and native families, people were aware of the damage caused by residential schools, but simply did not talk about it openly.
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It should be noted that when news first broke about the graves of Aboriginal children at the Kamloops residential school last May, Indigenous News Online decided to wait until Tuesday to report on it. At the time, my non-Aboriginal business partner asked me and our editor at the time (a First Nations citizen) why we didn’t have a sense of urgency about history.
We told him it wasn’t really new to us. We have known for years that aboriginal children are buried in unmarked graves in residential schools.
History has proven that my judgment on the news of that day was wrong. The story of Kamloops has awakened the world to the atrocities committed against Indigenous children by the federal governments of Canada and the United States. The story of residential schools and the generational trauma they caused – a story that was largely unspoken by natives for decades and mostly unknown to non-natives for just as long – suddenly grabbed headlines. newspapers. For the first time in my life, natives and non-natives were talking about residential schools and their effect on native communities and families.
Unaware of most of this, The American ConservativeThe article is lengthy and dissects various aspects of Indian Residential Schools, mostly describing them as a way to rapidly advance our ancestors into American society through assimilation. The rationale for the article seems to be this: Indian boarding schools were necessary to bring in Native Americans from the Dark Ages.
Indigenous News OnlineSenior reporter Jenna Kunze, who has reported about half of the more than 120 stories we’ve written about Indian boarding schools over the past year, also read Andrews’ article. She wrote to me on Friday, “Andrews writes from an ethnocentric perspective that assumes government behavior was in the best interests of Native American children and school conditions were objectively better for the children — remember we I’m talking about five-year-olds taken from their families.
“Her critique of the movement’s lagging since boarding schools closed (she says most were closed in the 1930s, but many opened in the 1970s) fails to capture the systemic oppression against Native Americans in this country, the psychology the impact and the code of the indoctrination and/or silence instilled in its children, and the fact that the United States was not able to take this history into account until very recently .”
I also reached out to Aaron Payment (Sault Ste. Marie Tribe), a Native American educationist, who has his doctorate in education, to ask what he thought of Andrews’ writing.
“Investigating the experience of American Indians forcibly removed from their homes and subjected to assimilation factories that used brainwashing tactics to strip culture, language, spirituality, identity and make no mistake about treaty and trust obligations is not about blame but about reconciliation and healing,” Dr. Payment told me. “This political hate movement of anti-criticism theory of race is a whistle and an attempt at moral and ethical absolution from the past. Manifest destiny has been used to justify the rape of the land and the theft of indigenous peoples as the will of God. We all have a part of our past and we all have a responsibility to learn from it so that we can truly live in a free and just society.
While conservatives often sing loudly about liberty and individual liberties, they seem unwilling to participate in discussions of the liberties and liberties that have been stripped from Native Americans over two centuries. The residential school discussion obviously makes some conservatives, like Andrews, uncomfortable. I do not know the author; she doesn’t know me either. However, after reading the article, it’s safe to assume that she knows little or no Native Americans.
Rather than sit in an ivory tower and write an article that tries to erase our history, maybe Andrews should come down to Indian country, talk to some of our elders who went to boarding schools and seek to understand the other side of the story. She will hear the truth in each of their stories.
I often say it’s time for Native Americans to tell their own stories because we haven’t always been happy with how they are told by non-Natives. From Hollywood to the history books, American Indians and Alaska Natives have been distorted at best and erased at worst.
If the Indian Country narrative is to change, we must tell our own stories. We cannot let them be told by people with political agendas who want to whitewash our history. We must fight against those who seek to suppress the truth so that our tribal communities and our indigenous families can heal.
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