For years, there’s been silence surrounding what happened at Native American boarding schools in the U.S., like this one in Anadarko, Oklahoma.
“They whipped me and they whipped me and they whipped me,” said Donald Neconie, a boarding school survivor
At a listening session for survivors of the abuse held in July, 84-year-old Donald Neconie recounted
the physical beatings administered by one school official.
“Sometimes he would hit you in the face, but you couldn’t cry, you did not cry, because if you cried you got it even worse.”
The abuse and deaths suffered by Native American children at hundreds of government- and church-run schools over a period of 150 years was widespread, survivors now say.
Deborah Parker’s grandparents attended the schools.
“Foul smell, what they believed would be children who were being burned in the incinerator. There were little children’s jail cells,” Parker said.
Forcibly removed from their homes, these youngsters were pawns in a systematic effort to assimilate Native Americans into white, Christian culture. This pattern of mistreatment also took place in Canada. It was nothing short, Parker says, of cultural genocide.
“Those children didn’t have a voice, and so it’s up to us to share that voice, share what happened, as painful as it may be and it certainly is painful,” Parker said.
Her Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition has pushed to expose the facts about this abuse, which doesn’t appear in textbooks, through these sessions… Another will soon be held in South Dakota. There’s also pressure on the U.S. Congress to approve an investigative commission.
“We have a limited amount of time to hear directly from survivors and to record their stories,” Parker said.
Stories that are shocking.
“Well my mom she says that she received a lot of physical and emotional, sexual abuse when she was in boarding school. She lost her ability to speak her language,” said Sonya Frazier, from the Oklahoma Indigenous Nurses Association.
In some cases, the alleged abuse came at the hands of priests and nuns.
“I thought they were… I thought they were there to protect our children but they failed miserably. They harmed our children. They caused great harm,” Parker said.
The boarding schools stopped operating in 1969 but the trauma in the Native American community is still felt to this day.
“I think that’s where we’re at right now, is the very core of that pain, that loneliness, that feeling of rejection,” Parker said.
Only truth, she says, will bring healing and accountability, now that this ugly part of America’s past is finally coming to light.