Hidden History: Native American Boarding Schools


with Gina Jackson of Native Americans in Philanthropy


Nov 02, 2018

Beginning in 1869 and for the century that followed, hundreds of thousands of Native American children were placed in boarding schools. Removed from their homes and families, these children were forced to assimilate to American culture, with severe punishment for speaking their native languages or engaging in any activity or behavior reflective of their native culture.

Gina Jackson, Program Director for Native Americans in Philanthropy, joins Ellee Pai Hong to discuss the Healing Campaign, which aims to inform the public about Native American boarding schools and their lasting impact on the Native American population.

Hosted by: Ellee Pai Hong Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Hong: In the late 1800s, the federal government established boarding schools in an attempt to assimilate the Native American population, forcibly separating children from their families, homes, and Native communities in the process. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Ellee Pai Hong. By 1925, more than 60,000 children were enrolled in Native American boarding schools. Joining me to discuss a healing campaign and the hidden history of America´s indigenous people is Gina Jackson. She is program director of Native Americans in Philanthropy. Gina, thank you so much for being here.

Jackson: Thank you for having me.

Hong: You know, in doing my research for this segment, I had no idea that this was going on, but this has been happening for decades -- started in the 1800s -- taking kids out of their homes to assimilate them to what was then the predominant culture.

Jackson: Yes, and that´s exactly the whole point of us doing this Truth and Healing campaign is, it´s not widely known among the general public that this has even happened in our country, and so it´s part of the truth-telling. It was purposely left out of history books and mainstream education systems, and so the time is now. We can no longer, you know, keep this under wraps, and it´s really important for us to, as a nation, to have healing, that we have to face the hard realities of our own history here in the U.S.

Hong: Yeah, let´s talk a little bit more about that history because the founders of one of the first boarding schools of this type said, "Kill the Indian, save the man."

Jackson: Yes, absolutely. So, the first boarding schools were modeled off of prison camps, and they quickly learned that trying to assimilate young adults and young Native people was not as effective as reaching and taking young children and trying to assimilate those children, and, of course, you know, back then, people didn´t have birth certificates, and they couldn´t, you know, pick an age group, so they went on height, and depending on how tall you were as a child, you could be removed. You could be a tall 4-year-old, and they could take you forcibly, and they would. Families would hide their children, and, you know, law enforcement would come and forcibly remove them, crying and screaming and being pulled away.

Hong: That´s so tragic.

Jackson: Families would, you know, try to fight them off, and it was to no avail.

Hong: And once they were in these schools, they were punished for observing their culture, using their language, looking like who they are.

Jackson: Absolutely. In fact, one of the ways that is proof and evidence that these boarding schools were so devastating yet effective in their sinister goals in removing culture and assimilation is the fact that so many tribes have loss of language today, and my family, specifically, all of my grandparents went to boarding school. My grandfather tells stories of having to kneel on rice for hours, and if he, you know, went back on his bottom, they would hit him and beat him for speaking his language. And so to pass that on to his children was a struggle. Knowing his experience was so devastating, he wanted his children to be able to speak perfect English and not to have that accent so that they wouldn´t face similar discrimination -- different discrimination, but discrimination, albeit, as well.

Hong: But that´s not the only after effect of a history like that. It´s had significant impact on the Native American populations of today.

Jackson: Absolutely. Being isolated away from your families, not being loved, not being -- having any affection, learning -- growing up in a place where you´re institutionalized. How do you learn to be a parent? How do you learn to show affection? How do you -- You don´t, and that has impacted generations of people even today. Right now, child removals aside from boarding schools -- if you look at the public child welfare system, the statistics are astounding regarding Native American child removals. In certain states, their statistics are worse than others. Minnesota, for example, is nearly 13 times more likely, if you´re a Native child, to be removed from your home than if you´re a non-Native child into the child welfare system. So, yeah, the effects are devastating. I´m reminded every single day when I know that our family has had the loss of language, and so many others. Every single family that I know has been impacted by Native boarding schools.

Hong: Which is why you´re so passionate about this Healing campaign, because you really want that awareness out there because knowledge is power.

Jackson: Yes, and for example, did you have an awareness of this?

Hong: I didn´t. I had no idea until I started researching for the segment.

Jackson: Yeah, so, and I think just, you know, just like your own experience, the general public doesn´t have this awareness, and it´s so important for us. Again, in order for this country to have healing, is that we have to have -- we have to uncover this dark history. Yes, it will be hard to face, but we can´t take steps forward without it, on the general public side and also for Native communities, as well. The young people today are the ones who are demanding it, as well. We´re kicking off our Healing campaign at the first National Native Boarding School Healing Alliance National Conference, and we´re having a funders tour where we´re bringing a group of funders. Since we´re in philanthropy, you know, one of our target groups is, you know, foundations who are bringing folks in to really learn this history. It´ll be transformative. People will never be the same after this tour, but we´re going to Carlisle Indian Boarding School, where Captain Pratt, who is the infamous general who said the, "Kill the Indian, save the man," where he lived and was on-site at that boarding school. So, we´re kicking that off. We have a whole number of activities that will be involved in the campaign all around educating groups, organizations, and individuals and not just philanthropy in tribes and nonprofit organizations, but general public, as well.

Hong: So that everyone knows the history and what happened and so that it doesn´t happen again. Thank you so much, Gina. Appreciate your time today.

Jackson: Thank you.

Hong: And thank you for joining us, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I´m Ellee Pai Hong.

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