This is an excerpt from the documentary Our Spirits Don’t Speak English, where boarding school survivors are interviewed about their time in the schooling system.

Too many people don’t know about this. This, if anything, should be taught in schools, but instead it is hidden. In my elementary and middle school days we learned about the wild West, the railroad system, the California Missions, Pilgrims etc. The only Native education the U.S. implements in the curricula is the Trail of Tears. No one in my classes knew about Wounded Knee, the Long Walk, the broken treaties, the slavery of my own tribe to build churches, the bounties that were put on all Native heads (common bounty in CA was $1 for head $.50 for an ear), the cultural genocide.

If there is one Native thing this country needs to learn is the boarding school system. Some of us still live with the results of the boarding schools. We have high rates of domestic violence which is always stated as being introduced the schools. Native children were taken from their homes, and placed into the schools where they were beaten and molested by the teachers and staff. The schools were to reform Natives into respectable white people, but once the kids left the system they had trouble finding work, while some were outcast from their tribe.

This was all a part of the genocide, yet too many people have no idea this even happened.

One of the most heartbreaking moments in my life was sitting in Dennis Banks’ home (google him. you should know his story!) listening to him talk about being taken away to one of these schools. He talked about how much he hated his mother for letting him be taken and not coming to get him. He found out many years later, after she’d died, that she wrote to him every day, but the school never let him see the letters. A documentary film team, working on a film of him, discovered the letters and called him. She died with him still hating her, and he didn’t know the truth. This is one of the most current and ongoing atrocities of our country against Native Americans (that and the foster care issue!).


Tig Notaro (x)


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