There is much that our past can show, if everyone will stop turning away from the truth

Following are stories from Madonna Thunder Hawk and Chase Iron Eyes (both from the Lakota People’s Law Project) about the Native boarding schools in the lands called Canada and the United States. And a petition calling for the Biden administration and congressional committees to form and empower a Truth and Reconciliation Commission today.

As we wrote to you several weeks ago, there’s a lot of justified anger and trauma in Indian Country right now. For many of us, the reality of what happened in these horrific church-run and state-sanctioned facilities is not something we want to relive. That said, because I was there, I want to share with you some of what my experience looked like.

By the time I went to boarding school in the late 1940s and early ‘50s, things weren’t as horrifying as they’d once been. I spent a period of these years in the U.S. government and parochial boarding school systems on and off the Cheyenne River reservation. It may not surprise you to learn that I was always on the verge of getting kicked out. They said I was “too mouthy!”

My parents’ generation had it much harder. In their day, boarding schools were military in style and very strict. In the late 1920s and early ‘30s, my mother attended Pipestone Elementary. It was a U.S. government school, but many like it were parochial, mainly Catholic. She and her classmates were made to wear uniforms and march wherever they went. Neither crying nor laughing was allowed. No one talked, and many tried to escape, but they would always be found and brought back against their will. Then the administrators would shave their heads bald, march them into the auditorium, string them up, and flog them. All the other kids were made to watch as a lesson in what happens when you run away. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that many children died from illness under these harsh conditions.

This is the intergenerational trauma that I and so many of my contemporaries still live with today. It informs our current fight to keep our young ones from being stolen away into white foster “care.” It’s why we, as an organization, back Secretary Haaland’s investigation, and why we hope even more will be done to empower a true reckoning here in the U.S. — through an audit of our own school properties and teaching real history in the schools of today. There is much that our past can show, if everyone will stop turning away from the truth.

Wopila tanka — thank you for your understanding and allyship at this hard moment.
Madonna Thunder Hawk
Cheyenne River Organizer
The Lakota People’s Law Project

Chase attends a prayer circle in D.C. and offers his thoughts on the tragic discoveries of more graves at Indian boarding schools over the past weeks


Sign the petition here: America cannot hide from the ramifications of its own history (lakotalaw.org)

After the continued findings of mass graves of Indigenous children at boarding schools, it’s long past past time to confront the genocide of Indigenous People on Turtle Island. Tell the Biden administration and congressional committees to form and empower a Truth and Healing Commission today.

Petition Text:

The tragic discoveries of mass graves full of Indigenous children at boarding school campuses shocked Americans and Canadians alike — but this news did not surprise any Indigenous person on Turtle Island. The history of boarding and residential schools are a well-known horror in these communities. Generations have suffered and continue to suffer the fallout of this criminal legacy.

Therefore I ask today that the United States government take immediate corrective action to address its own genocidal history. I call upon the Biden administration, the House Subcommittee of the Indigenous People of the United States and the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs to immediately spearhead the formation of a Truth and Healing Commission empowered to confront the scope of this tragedy head-on.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s creation of the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative is a wonderful start, and we applaud Secretary Haaland for taking action on behalf of her Indigenous relatives. But we need a true reckoning, and any agency must be empowered to find the hard answers.

The proposed Commission — or Secretary Haaland’s Initiative — must be given the authority to conduct a full audit of all Indian boarding schools within the U.S. and any relevant associated properties. We demand that government agencies, churches, property owners, and faith-based organizations prioritize cooperation with these efforts to help ensure they are comprehensive and fully effective.

Until America confronts its own history and continued use of colonial tools of oppression, these discoveries will continue to be made. Communities will continue to grieve and America will continue to skirt responsibility for its violent history — and current practices — of colonialism and resulting genocides.

America was founded on documents which granted legal immunity and bestowed moral imperatives to conquer and “civilize” the Original People of Turtle Island. These documents, issued as papal bulls from the Vatican and known as the Doctrine of Discovery, authorized and encouraged the violent origins of America. By 1860, with the opening of the first Indian boarding school, America was simply updating ancient methods of colonization to continue acting with impunity and violent arrogance. The latest evidence discovered of genocide, murder, and violence underlines the horror resultant from the Doctrine, which is still being used as a tool of disenfranchisement and oppression in today’s court systems.

America cannot hide from the ramifications of its own history. With the closure of our last Indian Boarding school in 1978, Americans must understand that this is living history, not some historical footnote. People and communities are still suffering. Let this tragic discovery in Canada be the wake up call that America needs. Please use your authority as members of the executive and legislative branches to begin blazing a new kind of trail. Form a Truth and Healing Commission — and vest it with the authority to begin addressing this nation’s long history of violence and oppression toward Native communities.

Sign the petition here: America cannot hide from the ramifications of its own history

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