The Boarding School Tragedy — What Do We Do Now?

I am writing this on my blog post,, with a feed to facebook. So if you are reading it on facebook, go to the blog page where we can gather and make comments as well as on facebook.

With your help, we have made amazing progress in raising awareness of the boarding school horrors. With luck we will get to Deb Haaland — good and influential people are assisting in the effort to get her a copy of The Wolf at Twilight. She doesn’t need it; her knowledge is deep, personal, and profound But that book can open the eyes and, with luck, the hearts, of people who previously have neither known nor cared about the tragedy of the boarding schools and the lingering effects on people and families today.

So now comes the next step — the step I don’t know how to make. What do we do to move the issue forward? More specifically, what do you Native readers want to see happen? This is where we non-Natives move back and become allies. Our job is to listen and help, and to use our White privilege and status to amplify your voices and turn the concern to action.

One of you readers — sadly, I can’t find the comment to give you credit — said, “When Native people raise an issue, it is a complaint. When White people raise that issue, it becomes a cause.” This needs to become a cause. But it needs to have a desired outcome. Awareness is great, and, if that’s all the comes of this, it is enough. But a specific purpose — a legislative goal or some specific action — focuses energy and becomes the tip of the spear. That’s what we should be seeking.

What would you Native readers like to see happen to help the healing? I can speak, I can write, but I can’t organize my way out of a paper bag. We need a common purpose to come out of this moment and this engagement of good people, and that means the Native voice must be heard and must articulate a specific goal.

What would you like to see happen around the issue of the boarding schools? For the grandparents, for the children, for the children yet unborn? For awareness but also for healing? We are all listening and ready to help.



20 thoughts on “The Boarding School Tragedy — What Do We Do Now?”

  1. I said it. The desired outcome is policy makers today understanding the harmful effects of past policies put in place to exterminate the tribes. And how those lasting effects still show up in our communities in high rates of disease, addiction, lack of housing, education, infrastructure, and food security. The desired outcome could be reparations, a strong national apology, updated curriculum not called critical race theory if people find it so offensive, An outcome could be that we have more funding from state and federal programs made available for our needs, not crumbs that we have to compete for against other organizations and tribes. We also need land, and not the land we have to buy back with our own zhooniya.
    I’m sure there’s plenty more thoughts on this. Theses are mine before coffee.
    Have a great day Miigwech.

  2. Happily Mt passed a law to help find missing native women. so tribal issue is starting to get awareness in local area. . keep writing. can buy used copies of book on to pass on. . although people here who know some tribal did not know we have those schools too and their horrors keep writing!

  3. Barbara Salage

    Washington Post had a recent article that Deb Haaland is referring to this issue and voiced how her grandparents, I believe, had been stolen from their families and put into boarding schools. I have not yet read the article. Has anyone else seen this?

  4. Hopefully things that happened will be recognized for what they were and some type of atonement made to the Indian peoples of all tribes. It sickens me to know that this happened and no one was brought to justice for these crimes and all the other crimes yet unknown.

  5. Also a non-native ally ready to listen and learn and support. How does one help ease such pain?

  6. Let’s watch and see what comes back from my Native readers. I suggest you go to Facebook and look the comments on my two most recent posts. That’s where most of the discussion is taking place. I have tried to move it over here, but not too successfully thus far. You may well find the discussion on the facebook postings to be illuminating. Stay in touch.

  7. W Wynne Zaugg

    Of all the horrors my ancestors inflicted on First People, this is among the worst. To deny anyone of their heritage, humanity, culture, and personal identity is worse than what Hitler did. I am not Native this lifetime, and those who experienced this personally, or whose ancestors did are the ones who should determine what happens now.

  8. Absolutely. Those of us who are non-Native have to assist as we can. But we need to listen to them as to what is needed for healing.

  9. To W. Wynne Zaugg: I like what you said about not being Native ‘this’ lifetime. I feel that, too. My first trip to my grandmother’s little church where she tried to get me to go into a room with other children had me kicking and screaming and biting. Everyone was shocked. I remember it clearly. (I was a quiet, mannerly child). Afterward I entered the room and it was fine, but for some reason I initially fought hard against it. I have had many episodes like this. When I was young I heard someone’s name was ‘Carlisle’ and it stuck in my head. Upon reading Leslie Marmon Silko’s ‘The Turquoise Ledge’ , the phrase she mentioned about the ‘gray skies of Carlisle’ in the boarding school in PA (the state where I live), was so familiar to me. Why we may not be Native in this life, our soul remembers another time and the pain and joy of other days. No one should be forced to lose their identity and conform to someone else’s plan on how they should be. They wanted to erase our individuality. We must never let this happen.

  10. Kent…however I can be of service, please let me know. Like you, I’m not a very good organizer…but I have a lot of heart and compassion for Native Americans who still suffer from the devastating effects of the boarding school legacy. The souls of these beautiful Native children have called out to me for years now, especially when I see this particular picture. Whatever I can do to help educate, advocate, and shatter the collective denial & shame that shrouds this nation, I am ready now to take action. The time has come for me to honor the voices and souls of these beautiful Native children that call to me…a journey I am both humbled and honored to take.

  11. I worked at a toy factory for over 33 years. I was older than many of my co-workers (some of them by over 40 years) and because of that fact, and that I wasn’t born nor raised around here, I was always ‘strange’ to them. I could’ve fit in if I had been more sports-minded or was in tune with thier multi-generational worlds, but by this time I was entrenched in my own age and thought of things differently. We may have been co-workers, but with one or two rare exceptions, we never became close friends.

    There was one individual, a Canadian, with whom I worked closely; a man thirteen years younger than I, who, for a majority of those years, we were often teamed up on work projects for the reason that we both worked hard; neither slacked off and let the other carry more of a load. I learned things from him and he learned things from me. He got along good with people, whatever age or gender; one reason being that he either liked you or he didn’t, and was brutally straight about it.

    During these early years of our employment, he was seemingly critical particularly toward Canadian First Nations people from the nearby border town communities of southeastern Manitoba, and southwestern Ontario where he was from originally. He would mimic their speech patterns punctuated with French phrases and call them lazy. I never really thought much about it, as it often seemed just in fun, but as the years went by, I realized it was a litany of racism. He had a French surname, and as I learned much later, his wife was a First Nations woman.

    Our friendship had grown to a point over the years where we had visited one another’s homes, got to know one another’s families, and eaten meals together. Our children were about the same age. I had met his folks; talked to his dad, learned about them, and their lives. We were close friends.

    I had been reading about Indigenous people for years by that time, cultures different from my own who resided around me, all of which I wanted to be less ignorant. I could see that many of the people who were born in this region of northwest Minnesota, were as racist as anywhere else, and regarded Indigenous people as invisible — or impossible.

    This disparity ‘Joe’ displayed, began making me think. Each story or event involved a person or group of people he called lazy, and according to him were unemployed because of lack of ambition, not for lack of work. They were people who he saw took advantage of the welfare system and had become dependent on it, and acted deserving of it; he had no time for them.

    Finally, I spoke up when he started down that path for the hundredth time, I said, “Wait! What are you doin’? I remember you told me that your dad and his brother were taken away to ‘go live with the nuns’, and that they were made to work very hard. They worked in the garden, and that the nuns got vegetable soup, but all the kids got was the water. Your dad and his brother ran away and stayed away from home, where they knew others would be looking for them. They hid out and were helped by people around them for a couple years until your dad was old enough to get a job.

    “You bad-mouth First Nations people when, if anyone knows a thing or two about Canadian fur trade history, and the French, whose language you spout here on occasion — the First Nations people, the Dakotah, the Cree, the Ojibwe, inter-married with them, eh?

    “The fact your dad and his brother were sent ‘to live with the nuns’ is likely because they are First Nations people themselves who were torn from their family and sent to residential school, where they were beaten when they spoke their language, beaten when they ever did anything wrong, and were worked like slaves.

    “Your dad and your uncle escaped, scared for their very lives as Indigenous children.

    “You facetiously imitate your niece’s and nephew’s speech, in a song-song way, “Is my dad there?” Or you disrespect an older person asking for something you think he doesn’t deserve because he hasn’t got a job; he’s on welfare. Aren’t these people your relatives? Family? Your wife, your children, — you — First Nations people? Correct me if I’m wrong here. You’ve never been one to hold your tongue.”

    The man nodded, then smiled, and said “I hate it when you talk like that. But when Dad and his brother went to live with the nuns, it was just something they did back then . . .”

    “Riiii-ight . . .”

    A few weeks later, we had returned from lay-off over Christmas, and gathered in a break room just before our shift started. A co-worker about my age was talking to the Canadian.

    “Well, I’m Polish,” the co-worker said, proud of the fact his great-grandparents had immigrated to the United States from Poland, a couple generations ago. “If you were born in the United States, but live in Canada, what’s your nationality? Are you Canadian or American?”

    The Canadian said, “I have dual citizenship. I’m both Canadian and American.”

    The co-worker said, “What? That’s not a nationality! You can’t be both!”

    And the Canadian said, turning to look at me, “I’m French-Canadian Indian. ”

    “Really?” the older co-worker said, with sincerity in his voice. “I didn’t know that.”

    The Canadian’s seemingly racist attitude toward others of his own cultural ancestry may stem from the indoctrination of residential school, although he may have never attended one. He did attend a Catholic high school in Ontario in the 1970s. His behavior may have been an effectual display of the success residential schools had severing family and cultural ties across the generations; fomenting in the minds of many of those people who attended residential schools, that they were good citizens, and those who didn’t, were lazy or unemployable. As residential, or boarding schools, existed in both Canada and the United States 1870s-1996, and 1860-1978, respectfully; this phenomenon isn’t unknown.

    In 2001, I was given the privilege to know an Anishinaabe elder residing near Cass Lake, Minnesota, whose mother had been in a residential school from early childhood to young adult, and had been so changed by the experience that she had denounced all family and cultural ties, including recognizing her own parents. The daughter learned of her White Earth reservation family from an aunt, whom she didn’t know she had, just at a time when she needed her family the most.

    As a non-Native, and student of Minnesota history, I took great interest in her story. She was kind enough to allow me to learn a little of the early years of her life and how it was for her to become an American Indian Culture Educator on the reservation restoring Native pride when it was something she, herself, was totally unaware. With help by people of the reservation, she laid the groundwork for a program that never existed before; an amazing feat, I think.

    Her stories also shed some light on what re-becoming Anishinaabe involved, a story so compelling I’ve thought of it all these many years and have always felt the Native community should make something of it, celebrating her life; something wholly compiled and produced by Native writers and artists.

    I think educating non-Natives about the history of residential schools in the United States, and Canada, to the severity of their impact on literally generations of Indigenous people is paramount; and the book, ‘the Wolf at Twilight ‘ is a very good start.

  12. This is a long post, but well worth your time. I am reminded of the phrase used by a Native elder I met in Spirit Lake, North Dakota. I tell the story in Voices in the Stones. The phrase, which haunts me, and which he used after telling he had been in the boarding school is this — “I am no longer myself. I am somebody else.” What a terrible and terrifying truth this reveals.

  13. Liz VanDerhoof

    Yes, as a non-Native American, I must reiterate ‘all of the above and more must be shared to document history. There is no particular right way, but perhaps sharing your blog, Kent, and all the replies with as many people & government institutions as possible . Including all the “land grant” colleges & universities that were actually built on properties stolen from Native American & reservations. This is huge… and very much hidden. Research land grant colleges, the Morrill Act, the Hatch Act and history of the Cooperative Extension. Land was literally taken (“given”) once again by edict to expand Land Grant Colleges- many today are very famous
    college institutions!

  14. Thank you for this blog, and thank you for the 25th anniversary release of “Neither Wolf nor Dog” in 2019. Because of the anniversary release, the trilogy recently came “on my radar”, – I read all three books and I am now sharing them with friends and family. I wish I had known of your books from the very beginning, Kent – it would’ve helped so much with my interactions with Native people. I feel as though I finally have so much more understanding. Put me to work! Kent – how do I find the facebook page? Is it under your name, or the book title?

  15. I’m related to a Cree elder by marriage. He suggested I read “Neither Wolf nor Dog.” I’m a longtime fan of Steve Wall’s works—particularly his conversations with Leon Shenandoah, so I’ve had a difficult time understanding this elder’s guardedness when talking with me. After seeing Dan’s perspective, I understand. Thanks Kent.

    Also, I want to thank you for the unique POV in “Neither Wolf nor Dog.” Weaving your POV with Dan’s went a long way toward helping the reader get what Dan wanted us to hear.

    Regarding the “residential” or “boarding” school tragedy: If there is any way I can contribute to awareness or help keep the situation alive, let me know. You can check my website, to see where I’m at and get an idea of how I might contribute.

  16. I wish I could get a response to my comment.

    Since a few years I give some money to the St. Labre Indian School. The idea to help Indian children is great, but I don’t want that their education is our education and their roots are taken away from them.

    Each Christmas they send out Christmas cards with the hope that people give them money in return. But most of those cards show jesus christ and Bethlehem. Does it mean that the indian children are “forced” to believe in Jesus Christ (the dead body on a cross)?

    Any inputs? By supporting the school, do I do more harm then good?

    Thank you for your time.

  17. It’s a tough call. One thing to keep in mind, independent of any religious motivation, is how much of the collected money they have to spend to try to raise more money. I prefer quieter organizations that I know use the majority of their money to do direct service. Personally, I’d look elsewhere. And whereever I looked I would want to do a background search of their rating as a charity as well as try to see what their track record is for actually delivering service. Just as there are scams and problematic organizations, there are well-intentioned organizations that simply don’t have the administrative competence to pull off what they dream of doing. You don’t want your money paying for lunches for board members and fund-raisers in Boston, but neither do you want it to end up in a shoebox on someone’s kitchen table on the rez.

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