EDITOR’S NOTE: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.
When Joe Wheeler was sent to a boarding school for Native American youths in Oklahoma, he would later tell his grandson, 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 kept speaking Wichita, they beat him—or as they’d say, “civilized” him.
The torment 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 report by the Interior Department released May 11. 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’s tempting to believe that this horrific history is ensconced firmly in the past. But still today, countless Native American young people are being robbed of their chance to live safe and fulfilling lives. Currently, Native American youths are confined in the juvenile justice system at three times the rate of their white peers.
Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.