Imagine being torn away from your family and placed with people you don’t know and who don’t necessarily even speak the same language as you? That is what happened to Indigenous (Native) children beginning in 1860. Our indigenous brothers and sisters have gone through hell and back all in the name of making them assimilate into a culture that was not one of their own choosing. Children were taken from their parents and often placed on military installations in boarding schools that were considered benevolent programs, but were truly a mechanism to make Natives’ assimilate to European Culture. Captain Richard H. Pratt is noted as saying “Kill the Indian and Save the Man” when he delivered a speech in 1892 to justify tearing families apart.
The purpose of the boarding schools was to strip away the Native culture. Children had their hair cut, were physically abused for speaking in their native language and often deprived of basic necessities such as food. Can you imagine being taken away from your family and the culture you are accustom to only to be told that it is “savage” and “uncivilized?” I can only imagine how frightened the children must have been to experience such a level of ignorance by those who asserted that they were superior to them. Genocide is what happened to the Indigenous nations on their own soil.
The month of November is National Native American Heritage Month. It is a time to celebrate and truly recognize all the contributions made to our society by Native Americans. I often think of the “Code Talkers” during World War II, who utilized their native (Navajo) language to ensure secret military messages could not be decoded by the “enemy”—imagine how different things would have played out if the forced assimilate of Natives to become more European had worked, the Navajo language would have been lost. Thanks in part to the first twenty-nine Navajo nation members who agreed to join the U.S. Marines we didn’t lose the war and their code was never broken. Thanks to the Natives for allowing us to share space with them. As we gather for Thanksgiving, we need to give thanks that complete genocide was not committed and that we still have some Natives among us! Happy National Native American Heritage Month. The more you know I hope the more we grow!