By: Naomi Yaeger-Bischoff, for the Budgeteer News (Duluth, Minnesota)
Duluth News Tribune
While giving her talk, Susan Anderson, a student in the social work department at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, projected historical images of American Indian children who had been taken from their parents and placed in boarding schools. This photo was taken four months after the children first arrived at the school.
Susan Anderson projected the slide of an American Indian boarding school onto a screen. She looked out into the audience and asked, “Who of you would enjoy going to school here? You can just imagine what these young children experienced.”
At a conference at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center last month, more than 140 health and human service workers listened to Anderson’s presentation on the boarding schools and the negative effects they still have on Indian people today. Anderson was one of more than 120 to present at the 2011 St. Louis County Health & Human Service Conference October 10 and 11.
Anderson, who has researched the topic as part of her master’s of social work concentration at the University of Minnesota Duluth, presented a slideshow with interviews and photos of the schools. She said her mother attended one of schools, which she described as militaristic and run like prisons.
"I knew my mom loved me,” she said, “but she didn’t know how to show it. She didn’t know how to hug me.”
Anderson went on to illustrate how children as young as five were torn from their families and placed in the schools. The boarding school philosophy, she said, was “kill the Indian, save the man,” the legacy of which continues to affect Indian people today.
“Even if you are a native person and you don’t understand historical trauma, you are still affected by it,” she said. “It’s intergenerational.”
Anderson said that the U.S. government hoped American Indians would abandon their culture and assimilate. She said that brainwashing techniques were used at the schools.
“On the fateful day of Oct. 6, 1869, Col. Richard Pratt opened the first boarding school in Carlyle, Penn.,” Anderson said. “It was modeled after a prison,” she said, projecting a slide of it on a screen, “And it looks like a prison.”
Anderson showed a short film about how American Indian children were forcibly separated from their families and punished whenever they spoke their native language, even if they didn’t know English.
But Pratt showed off his work, using before-and-after photographs to raise money for Indian schools, pronouncing that he took the Indian children from barbarian to civilization.
“Four months later, they don’t even look like the same kids,” Anderson said. “They’ve had their haircuts; stripped of their Indian names….They just lost everything within four months.
She then showed an interview with an American Indian man who attended boarding schools in North Dakota between the mid-1960s and early 1970s.
“I got hit so much I lost my tongue ... I lost my native tongue,” the man said as he wept. “They beat me. Every day they beat me. They cut off my hair…”
Anderson added that there was physical and sexual abuse at the schools. “They were degraded,” Anderson said.
Of herself, she said, “I’m proud to be who I am, and…..you know that impression, what we receive from the outside is bad.” But, she added, “I know that I have some internalized depression. It’s a shame and disowning of our individual and cultural reality. We take what they say and make it a part of us.”
Charles Lussier, a job counselor for the Minnesota Chippewa tribe whose grandmother was sent to the boarding school, attended her talk.
“I suffer from historical trauma,” he said. “I connected the dots one day and realized what had happened.”
He said that he was two generations removed from the boarding school experience, going back to the 1920s, but that it “had such a profound effect on our family.”
Lussier said that the boarding school experience of previous generations may be the cause of current day problems for some individuals. “The native guy may not be able to put his finger on what is wrong,” he said. “Learning to heal the wounds began a generation or two previously might be a start.”