Tim Giago: The stolen generations in the U.S.
It would appear to me that most Americans know more about the “Stolen Generation” of Aboriginal children in Australia than they do about the “Stolen Generations” of Indian children in their own country.
Why is that? Well, movies such as “Rabbit-Proof Fence” and the newly released film “Australia” probably have something to do with it. In “Rabbit-Proof Fence” two little aboriginal girls are taken from their homes to the Catholic mission boarding school without the consent of their parents. They run away from the school and follow the path of the rabbit-proof fence hundreds of miles knowing that the fence runs next to their land and will lead them home. The fence was designed to contain the proliferation of rabbits that had begun to overrun Australia.
The movie “Australia” contains some key roles for the aboriginal people. The main focus is on a small boy who barely escapes the hands of the police early on in the movie only to be captured in the end and sent to the island mission school that is designed to “breed the black” out of the aboriginal children.
It wasn’t until 1973 that the practice of taking aboriginal children and placing them in mission boarding schools was prohibited by law in Australia. There has never been a law passed in America to end the same practice. In the 1960s the government-backed practice of taking Indian children from their parents and placing them in Bureau of Indian Affairs and Christian missionary boarding schools began to end of its own volition.
In Australia and in America the children were taken from their parents and their homelands to “breed the black out of them” and in America they were taken to “breed the Indian out of them.” The saying popular in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church and in other denominations, as well as in the halls of Congress, was “Kill the Indian, Save the Child.”
This practice, though well-intended by those implementing it, did more damage to the Native American children than any other. What started out as a practice to convert the children to a new religion and a new perspective turned out to be nothing more than “cultural genocide.”
An abundance of lawsuits against the Catholic and Anglican Churches resulting in victories for indigenous complainants in Canada and Alaska have received little or no attention in America.
A recent lawsuit against the Catholic Church by former students of the St. Francis Indian School on the Rosebud Indian Reservation is now in the courts. There are statutes in South Dakota that would consider a statute of limitations and also consider allegations other than sexual abuse as non-essential. If “cultural genocide” could be included in the number of reasons for the lawsuits in South Dakota, it would put an entirely new face on the process. Though many former students still sport the scars of the sexual, physical and psychological abuse of the Indian boarding schools, the attempts to destroy their cultural beliefs is just as damaging and just as significant. The collateral damage of “cultural genocide” is one of the intangibles that are not easily interpreted in a court of law. It has taken nearly a generation for the former students of the Indian boarding schools to finally step forward and openly speak of their sexual abuse. It is not in the culture, the very culture that the boarding schools attempted to erase, for these Indian people to do so.
But after two or three generations, they are, at last, stepping forward and sadly, their courageous stand is drawing criticism from many of their own “converted” people. These are the converts that went through their entire boarding school experience apparently wearing blinders because they failed to see the abuse, whether it was physical, psychological, sexual, or cultural that was taking place all around them.
These converts are as much a part of the cover-up as are the movie producers in Hollywood that find these true-to-life situations of cultural genocide too powerful and embarrassing for the consumption of the general population of Americans.
If Australia can finally stomach these epic wrongs against the aboriginal people of its continent and actually produce films depicting these evils, one can only ask the question: Where are those American film producers with the same courage? And if the government of Australia can issue an official apology to its aborigine citizens for the evil it rained upon them, why can’t the America do likewise? What is needed is a Native American Spike Lee or a Native David Wolper to tell America “the rest of the story.”
Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, was born, raised and educated on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He was the founder and publisher of Indian Country Today, the Lakota Times, and the Dakota/Lakota Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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