Opinion: Native American boarding schools contribute to generational trauma


Photo Courtesy The Indigenous Foundation

Before and after picture of a young man who went to an American Indian Boarding School.

Native Americans are still facing generational trauma today. Most non-Native Americans are not educated on the dark history and struggle that Native Americans have and are still facing. Students either do not get an accurate telling or no telling of the history and issues that they have faced at all, according to the Smithsonian.

Indigenous people have faced many years of genocide, forced displacement, disease and forms of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual violence according to Native Hope. I could use many examples of this such as the Native American Boarding schools in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The purpose of these schools was to take in Native American children and basically strip them of their culture. It was said that the schools were there to kill the Indian and save the man. There were about 370 boarding schools and by 1926, roughly 83 percent of Native American children were in these boarding schools. The children were forcibly taken from their homes and families according to Boarding School Healing.

While at the boarding schools, children were punished for speaking their native languages and representing their cultures. The children were stripped of their traditional clothing, hair and any sort of behaviors that displayed their heritage according to Boarding School Healing. The children suffered many forms of abuse, including physical, mental and spiritual.

This contributes to generational trauma due to how disheartening it was and how many Native Americans were affected by it, even my family has been affected by it. I have cousins, aunts and uncles who went to a Native American boarding school and are still alive to this day. They went to a boarding school in Oklahoma called Chilocco Indian Agricultural School. It was opened from 1883 to 1980 according to OK History. Words can not describe how saddened I was to learn that some of my family members went to these schools.

In most cases, generational trauma is caused by the oppressive or traumatic effects of historical events according to Duke. The reasoning behind why trauma gets passed down is that the younger generations are heavily influenced by the older generations. Now it does not only affect the victims but the victim’s families.

Once children who attended these schools returned to their families, they clearly were not the same, essentially they had lost their identities. When the children who attended these schools had families of their own, they ended up passing the trauma down to their children according to Native Hope. This is how generations of trauma have impacted Native Americans.

Today there is still no exact number of children who attended these schools. There is also no exact number of children who were abused, died or went missing while at the schools according to Boarding School Healing. The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition has worked hard to learn the truth about the schools. What they do has a big impact on bringing awareness to the Native Americans who have suffered from boarding schools.

I believe people should educate themselves on the purpose of the schools and once more people are aware of the truth about what happened, Native Americans can finally heal. Ways people can educate themselves are hearing firsthand from Native Americans who have been affected by the boarding schools, using reliable websites and even sparking conversations with others on the issue at hand.