A time for healing

Coalition confronts Christian boarding school trauma

By Cindy Yurth
Tséyi' Bureau

BOULDER, Colo., April 3, 2014

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TOP: Chinle Boarding School students start to get ready for the day in their dorm room in this photo taken in Jan. 7, 1946. (Courtesy photo – Milton Snow, Navajo Nation Museum Archives, NE 14-56)

MIDDLE: A photo taken on Jan. 8, 1946 of Chinle Boarding School girl's washroom depicts young students brushing their teeth.

BOTTOM: A group of young students are seen gathered at the front entrance of the Crownpoint Boarding School in this photo taken in Sept. 19, 1945 in Crownpoint, N.M. (Courtesy photo – Milton Snow, Navajo Nation Museum Archives, NE 14-286)

By the late 1860s, the U.S. government had expected to have the Indian problem well in hand.

It had riddled the tribes with bullets, confined them to reservations, burned their crops and villages, introduced fatal diseases and allowed travelers on the recently completed Transcontinental Railway to gun down the sacred buffalo for sport.

And still, there were Indians – fewer than before, but enough to stand in the way of progress, still practicing their heathen ways.

In the end, it was a handful of well-meaning Christian folk who came up with what was very nearly the final solution.

These Christian reformers, alarmed at the sorry state of the schools on the reservations and the general corruption among the Indian agents who were in charge of them (not to mention that the fact that the children, who could commute home on the evenings and weekends, were still practicing their Native spirituality and not getting baptized), proposed that the government allow the churches to take over the Natives' education.

By taking Native children and raising them far away from their tribes and families, the church folk reasoned, they could be molded into model Christian farmers and laborers the government would have no cause to kill.

These boarding schools would, as Carlisle Indian School founder Richard Pratt would so famously put it, "kill the Indian in order to save the man."

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