Mary Annette Pember: Boarding schools leave impact in US too

Members of the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska who were sent to the Carlisle Indian Boarding School in Pennsylvania in 1880. Photo from National Archives and Records Administration

Mary Annette Pember compares efforts to address the residential school era in Canada to those in the United States:
Many more Native children were harmed in the U.S. than in Canada by boarding schools. According to the TRC, there were more than 130 Indian residential schools in Canada, and upwards of 150,000 aboriginal children passed through this system. In the U.S., the Boarding School Healing Coalition estimates that there were over 500 such schools. According to Denise Lajimodiere, Ph.D at North Dakota State University School of Education and president of the Boarding School Healing Coalition, there were 153 federal Indian boarding schools and many more religious schools run by Christian denominations through contracts with the U.S.

According to the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) 2013 Legal Review, there were still 60,000 Native children enrolled in boarding schools in 1973, when the boarding school era was coming to a close.

“We need more researchers to verify data here in the U.S. Canada is so far ahead of us,” says Lajimodiere, Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. She points out that this data is crucial because unresolved trauma from boarding schools has contributed to maladaptive behaviors and social patterns such as suicide, domestic violence and substance abuse.

Health care professionals working in Indian Country say there is a direct relation between the trauma experienced in boarding schools and high rates of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), drug and alcohol use and suicide among boarding school survivors and their families. According to Teresa Brockie, researcher with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), historical trauma—including the boarding school experience—contributes to high rates of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) among Native people, which in turn give rise to mental health problems. The ACES study by the Centers for Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente found a connection between adverse childhood experiences and poor health.

Lajimodiere and other volunteers with the Boarding School Healing Coalition are working to bring the U.S. side of the boarding school story to the public, and help bring healing and justice to survivors and their families. The Coalition has recommended that the U.S. create a Commission on Boarding School Policy, with full participation of Native peoples who were affected. It also says the Commission should provide accurate information to the government and public about boarding school abuses, gather documentation from survivors and their families, receive recommendations for programs to help and support healing for families and communities and document healing programs that work.

Get the Story:
Mary Annette Pember: When Will U.S. Apologize for Boarding School Genocide? (Indian Country Today 6/19)

Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report:
Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future (June 2015)

Related Stories:
Thomas King: No justice for Native people with residential schools (06/11)
Mary Pember: A long journey to healing from residential schools (6/9)
Pamela Palmater: Genocide was outcome of residential schools (6/9)
Opinion: US and Canada hope Native people forget about genocide (6/8)
Mary Annette Pember: 'Cultural genocide' at residential schools (06/03)
Mary Annette Pember: Finding truth and reconciliation in Canada (6/2)
Michael Champagne: We are all victims of residential school era (6/2)

Join the Conversation