Indigenous Boarding Schools Leave Legacy of Generational Scars

EdWeek-Colorado Public Radio. By Claire Cleveland, Colorado Public Radio — August 09, 2021

When Dzabahe was 11 years old, she went to her first government-run boarding school in rural Arizona around 1953. She left everything she knew on the Navajo reservation where she grew up.

“You became an orphan on that day,” she said. “My life was a shamble because everything that I was, everything that I believed in, my language, everything, I learned I was doing it all wrong.”

At the school, she was told not to speak her Navajo language. Her Navajo clothing and moccasins were sent back home with her parents. Her hair was cut, something that is taboo in Navajo culture. And even though she didn’t speak English or understand American customs, she was punished for not doing things the way the school wanted her to.

“I stood in a corner a million times until I was ready to faint,” she recalled. “And then the spanking and the harshness, and if you’re being punished you couldn’t eat dinner or breakfast or any meal. And then there’s a lot of shame that came with it.”

Dzabahe was also given a new name: Bessie Smith, which she still uses today.

Smith’s parents sent her to the school after state officials came to the reservation and told families with children who were not in the school that they had to send them. Her father also realized that she would need an education even if that went against what was traditionally done in the Navajo culture.

In May, 215 children’s bodies were discovered in a mass grave at an Indigenous Boarding school in Canada, prompting U.S. officials to look at the legacy of such schools in the U.S.

“We just want to make sure that families today get the information that they’ve wanted for decades and decades,” said Deb Haaland, secretary of the interior.

“And so we’re gonna work to identify every single boarding school in the country and absolutely find a way to make sure that we are assisting local communities that will involve a lot of tribal consultation,” she said. Read full article…

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