Peter d'Errico: Luci Tapahonso tackles legacy of boarding schools

Navajo children at a boarding school, circa 1890s. Photo by Indian Health Service / U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Luci Tapahonso, the poet laureate of the Navajo Nation, has an article in the July 2016 issue of Smithsonian Magazine, that focuses on the harmful impacts of Indian boarding schools. Retired professor Peter d'Errico wonders where the federal government will ever acknowledge that the system's role in the "Holocaust" of indigenous peoples:
You can tell the Smithsonian editors had trouble figuring out how to present Luci Tapahonso and the photographs by Daniella Zalcman without angering U.S. politicians who vote their budget: Although the essay subtitle focuses on "how native populations had a new nation foisted upon them," the overall section title steps back from the acknowledgment of force and separate nationhood: It reads, "American Exiles: Leaving Home: A series of three photo essays explores how America has treated its own people in times of crisis."

"Leaving home" sounds tame—even romantic—compared to "forced." Moreover, Navajos and all other Indigenous Peoples of the continent are not America's "own people." The boarding schools were one element in a long—and still ongoing—effort to make Indians disappear as nations, to force them to become Americans. Many have succumbed.

If the Smithsonian were really to present the full history of U.S. treatment of Indigenous Peoples, the exhibit would be named "American Holocaust." That would stir up even greater anger in the U.S. Congress than the 1995 controversy about the museum's atomic bomb exhibit, or its 2003 exhibit about the Arctic and climate change.

We can be thankful that Luci Tapahonso's essay made it through the gauntlet.

Get the Story:
Peter d'Errico: Luci Tapahonso, Boarding Schools & the Smithsonian (Indian Country Today 7/25)

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