The Federal Indian Residential School System Intentionally Wanted to Destroy Indigenous Families

The 106-page investigative report into the Federal Indian Residential Schools Initiative released May 11 provides insight into the federal government’s deliberate intent to disrupt the Native American family structure through assimilation. The report says the government’s plan involved the permanent severing of family ties.

A section of the report, Section 7: Framework for the Federal Indian Residential Schools System, reads: “The Department stated that it was ‘absolutely necessary that [the Indians] be placed in positions where they can be controlled, and ultimately compelled, by dire necessity, to resort to agricultural labor or starve to death”, adding later that “[i]If it is accepted that education offers the real solution to the Indian problem, then it must be accepted that the residential school is the very key to the situation.

Reading this section of the report reminded me of the day I first met Dr. Suzanne Cross (Saginaw Chippewa Indians) in the late 1990s, when I served on the Department’s Native American Subcommittee of Michigan on aging. Dr. Cross is an assistant professor emeritus at Michigan State University and has served as a consultant to the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition (NABS). She came to our subcommittee to discuss the work she had done on her doctoral thesis on historical trauma. The conversation quickly shifted to the historical trauma associated with residential schools.

Several adults shared stories of abuse they experienced at residential schools, and others shared how residential schools affected their families. An Ojibway woman was shaking and crying, telling us that her mother had never kissed her in her life. The mother had learned during her years at residential school that she should never hug or show physical affection.

The release last week of the report on the federal government’s willful and deliberate plan to destroy Indigenous families also brought back memories of an interview I did with American Indian Movement co-founder Dennis Banks (Ojibwa) in the fall of 2009 at Grand Valley State University. During the interview, Banks recounted his experiences at various Indian boarding schools. He told me that this experience caused him to maintain an indifferent attitude towards his mother because he felt she had abandoned him during his years of attending residential schools.

Banks recalled that on some occasions, school officials would announce a mail call so students could receive mail from home. He introduced himself, but he never received any mail. He felt like his mother didn’t love him.

Years passed and he was finally able to return home in his late teens. He said the first day home was awkward, but the second day home his mother made him a blueberry pie because she knew it was his favorite. He felt then that maybe things could go back to normal. So he started talking to her and asked her why she never sent him letters or tried to take him home. She told him yes.

Read more on: Indigenous News Online

Jeremy S. McLain