EDITOR’S NOTE:Each week, we post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column on the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full Katrina Chronicle here.
When Joe Wheeler was sent to a boarding school for young Native Americans in Oklahoma, he would later tell his grandson that his teachers taught him his first lesson by cutting his hair. Then when he spoke Wichita instead of English, they made him eat soap. And when he continued to speak Wichita, they beat him up or, as they would say, “civilized” him.
The ordeal Wheeler endured decades ago is typical of what thousands of children experienced from 1819 to 1969 at the more than 400 Native American boarding schools recently identified in an unprecedented Department of the Interior report released on 11 may. These schools, like their counterparts in Canada, were government-funded centers of abuse in the name of “assimilation”. The report identifies 53 burial sites associated with the schools, where at least 500 children who may have died within their walls were buried in often unmarked graves.
It is tempting to believe that this horrific story is firmly rooted in the past. But even today, countless young Native Americans are being robbed of their chance to live safe and fulfilling lives. Currently, young Native Americans are confined to the juvenile justice system at thrice the rate of their white peers.
Read the full Katrina Chronicle here.