Indigenous children stolen to open the West

I’ve been praying and writing a great deal about the atrocities of forced assimilation of Indigenous children. Studied the history of these atrocities. Heard my Native friends’ stories.

All of this is just horrendous. I didn’t think it could be any worse. Thought this was an extremely misguided attempt to help Native children, wrong as that was. I don’t know how I could not have seen that made no sense.

Several months ago I began to find reports that this was a policy of intentional cruelty. A way to force Native peoples who were resisting, to give up their lands.

The following quotes are from the article cited below which I highly recommend. It goes into great detail about this travesty. Information about forced assimilation and other subjects related to Land Back can be found on my website LANDBACK Friends

Nearly 200 Native children lie buried at the entrance of the Carlisle Barracks in the “Indian Cemetery” — the first thing you see when entering one of the United States’ oldest military installations. It is a grisly monument to the country’s most infamous boarding school, the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, which opened in 1879 in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and closed in 1918. Chiseled onto the white granite headstones, arranged in the uniform rows typical of veterans’ cemeteries in the U.S., are the names and tribal affiliations of children who came to Carlisle but never left. Thirteen gravestones list neither name nor tribe; they simply read “UNKNOWN.”

Carlisle, and boarding schools like it, are remembered as a dark chapter in the history of the ill-conceived assimilation policies designed to strip Native people of their cultures and languages by indoctrinating them with U.S. patriotism. But child removal is a longstanding practice, ultimately created to take away Native land. Although Carlisle is located in the East, it played a key role in pressuring the West’s most intransigent tribes to cede and sell land by taking their children hostage. 

A century after its closing, however, unanswered questions surround the Carlisle Indian School’s brutal legacy. Secrets once thought buried — why did so many children die there? — are coming to light. And the descendants of those interred are demanding more than just the return of their stolen ancestors.

“The past of Carlisle is really about justice,” says Ben Rhodd, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe’s tribal historic preservation officer. Since April 2016, his office has been pursuing the return of 11 children buried at the Carlisle Indian Cemetery. Even in death, Rhodd explains, Rosebud’s children remain “prisoners of war,” held at a military base and unable to return to their home on the Rosebud Reservation, children who were “hostages taken to pacify the leadership of tribes that would dare stand against U.S. expansion and Manifest Destiny.”

The U.S. stole generations of Indigenous children to open the West (Severed Ties). Indian boarding schools held Native American youth hostage in exchange for land cessions by Nick Estes, High Country News, Oct. 14, 2019

BY 1889, A DECADE INTO THE CARLISLE EXPERIMENT, Lakota parents were heartbroken. Up until then, the Lakota leadership had put up a united front opposing the 1887 Dawes Act, which proposed to allot reservation lands by parceling out individual plots to individual Lakota families and selling off “surplus” lands to white settlers. Given the forced starvation already occurring on reservations and the loss of the Black Hills, the horror of the unexplained deaths of boarding-school children was just too much to bear.

During a congressional hearing in Washington, D.C., in December 1889, Lakota and Dakota leadership discussed the loss of their children in regard to their decision to finally accept allotment. Coupled with the slashing of food rations, the taking of their children was “like cutting our heads off,” American Horse from Pine Ridge told the commission. White Swan from Cheyenne River explained, “It seems as though (our children) learned how to die instead of reading and writing.” The delegation had been lured to the East not only to sign over their lands but to also see their children. “Pine Ridge and Rosebud have their children at Carlisle mostly, so wherever their children are, they would like to go that way on their road home and see their children, and then go right home. That’s all,” Chief John Grass from Standing Rock pleaded before the delegation departed.

The U.S. stole generations of Indigenous children to open the West (Severed Ties). Indian boarding schools held Native American youth hostage in exchange for land cessions by Nick Estes, High Country News, Oct. 14, 2019

Nick Estes (Lower Brule Sioux Tribe) is an assistant professor of American studies at the University of New Mexico and the author of Our History is the Future: Standing Rock Versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance (Verso, 2019).

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