North Texas Daily

Indigenous communities deserve more than an apology

Indigenous communities deserve more than an apology

Indigenous communities deserve more than an apology
July 30
13:00 2021

To understand the widespread impact that “Indian” residential schools had on Indigenous populations all over North America, it is important to understand the history behind their creation, which is rooted in the eradication and genocide of Indigenous cultures — not just in the United States, but also in Canada and Mexico.

Since European colonizers stepped foot in the New World, Indigenous populations have had to deal with the consequences. Indigenous populations continue to hold onto what’s left of their culture and heritage.

In the U.S., there were several treaties among the Indigenous tribes and the government that was repeatedly broken. Signed by President Andrew Jackson in 1830, the Indian Removal Act allowed the government to legally displace Indigenous tribes out of their land and place them west of the Mississippi to different lands.

This led to the Trail of Tears. Over the span of several years, Indigenous tribes were forced to move west on foot for over 1,200 miles. With little food or water, thousands of people died on this journey. They were relocated to land that was set aside for them by the government. This land continued to shrink, yet weren’t allowed to leave.

On these reservations, they had to assimilate to the white man’s culture. They weren’t allowed to wear their traditional clothing and had to learn how to speak and write in English.

Many Christian missionaries tried to convert them and were aided with the establishment of what we now know as “Indian” residential schools. When the residential school system was formalized under the Grants’ Peace Policy of 1869-1870, the administration of “Indian” residential schools was handed to Christian denominations.

These schools, with the help of law enforcement, would forcefully remove children from their homes. They didn’t want to “kill” them anymore — they wanted to assimilate them. Indian Commissioner Thomas Morgan is quoted saying “It’s cheaper to educate Indians than to kill them,” when the Phoenix Indian School was established in 1891.

Plans to assimilate the Indigenous population and their children have had detrimental consequences for Indigenous communities all over North America. These ideas weren’t exclusive to the governments. The first examples of forced assimilation in North America were in Mexico at the hand of Catholic missionaries.

Under the Mexican government, all Indigenous people were classified as “minors.” To this day, many Mexican Indigenous people are fighting for rights to retain their culture and land. They face prejudice and violence at the hands of cartels and their own government. Mexico’s record-keeping has not been the best, and the true number of casualties that occurred by Catholic missionaries will never be known.

Earlier this summer, the remains of 215 children were found at Kamloops Residential School in British Columbia. The school closed in 1978, and many of the survivors are still alive.

Survivors Garry Gottfriedson came forward when the remains were found. He said that they weren’t allowed to speak their Native tongue and they were made to feel ugly. “I’ve never felt that I was good enough for anything,” he said.

This wasn’t all the struggles these children faced. The Canadian government admitted that both physical and sexual abuse was commonplace at residential schools. At one residential school in Ontario, survivors interviewed by the Ontario Provincial Police during an investigation stated they suffered or witnessed psychological, sexual or physical abuse.

Sure enough, this residential school was run by a Catholic institution. In the U.S. about one-third of the 357 known residential schools were managed by various Christian denominations. Some of these schools are still open.

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland is leading an initiative to hold the U.S. accountable and find which residential schools have human remains. It is likely they all have human remains.

In Canada, the number of human remains found buried at these schools is rising, with one school having had over 751 unmarked graves.

It is important, now more than ever, that these countries take accountability for the pain and trauma they inflicted on Indigenous communities. Entire cultures have been erased, attacked or disrupted in many ways. Survivors of residential schools and their descendants face poor physical and mental health, having higher rates of alcoholism and drug use. Many have considered suicide at least once in their life.

If Indigenous voices were taken seriously, this could easily be considered a war crime, but governments aren’t the only ones responsible.

Christian missionaries and Catholic institutions that ran these schools need to be held accountable. It is not enough that Pope Francis has expressed sorrow for this.

Some of these survivors are alive today, as are those who inflicted the abuse. Nothing these institutions do will be enough to reverse hundreds of years of pain and abuse. Still, they should start with an apology and plan for equity within these communities that are still affected by these crimes.

Featured Illustration by J. Robynn Aviles

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Tania Amador

Tania Amador

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