Created to bring awareness to and speak out against the Canadian Industrial school system, National Day for Truth and Reconciliation (also Orange Shirt Day) is acknowledged annually on September 30. The system existed throughout North America (not only Canada), and was implemented to strip away from Indigenous (Native American, Indian) children any semblance of identity and culture. It was a strategic, massive, and horrible campaign of assimilation to, as the Civil War's Lieutenant Captain Richard Henry Pratt stated, "Kill the Indian in him, and save the man". (The link to his full speech on 'The Indian Policy: The Advantages of Mingling Indians with Whites' in the resource section below.)
Industrial schools were boarding schools
which took Indigenous children from their
homes, and through educational indoctrination forced them to shun their traditional and ancestral ways. The languages, names, dress, foods, dances, songs, prayers, religions/spiritualities, and memories of approximately one hundred tribal nations were snatched from them one punishment, one beating, one rape, one killing at a time.
The first *government school was started in Carlisle, Pennsylvania in 1879 during the Indian Wars. It was built on an old military base and run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, a government organization which still exists today. The goal was to transform students from Godless savages to God-fearing citizens who would be accepted into the New World which was governed by white ways and standards. They were taught English, math, music, team sports, and hands-on skills that could ensure jobs in manufacturing.
Although these children were vastly tricked or outright stolen from their homes, many families willingly sent their young, believing the education would benefit their tribes, overall, with children who could understand the whites' language and customs. Also, so many Indigenous people were starving and without necessities. It made sense to some that the promise of "assimilation" into new ways would offer an advantage. In fact, even today there are non-Indigenous run Indian schools whose students are sent by their parents. Of course, they are not exactly like the Carlisle model which sparked the opening of hundreds more (church- and government-owned) throughout North America.
While the old Indian industrial school system may be looked upon as just another footnote of history, yet another atrocity done to people of color at the hands of whites, it is extremely important that we understand the tremendous impact it had and has on Indigenous people, those living on reservations as well as of the diaspora. Intergenerational trauma links us to our past in very real ways. Thousands of Indigenous children were lost; relatives and ancestors were lost; culture and legacy were lost- on reservations and throughout the diaspora. Reclaiming our true, untampered and unfiltered histories, cultures, and courage will take a lot of time and patience. However, it can be done. We can again be great if we work together, and learn to depend on ourselves. Too many of us are still hoping non-Indigenous promises and ways will lead to acceptance and prosperity for us and our people. If that was so we would not still be last in every arena.
This September 30 let us remember our loss while planning strategies to obtain gains. Let us learn from our past to cement a far better future.
The Advantage of Minglling Indians with Whites by RH Pratt's