The Boarding School Healing Project, also known as The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition (NABS) is a national coalition of organizations working with Native communities. It seeks to document and raise awareness of the abuse Native communities have gone through, so they can start healing from trauma and advocate for justice for what was done to these communities.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, many Native American children were taken from their homes and sent to boarding schools so they could be “assimilated” into Western culture. While at these schools, native children were humiliated, abused, and stripped of everything they had known. They were forced to give up their language, cultural traditions, and family connections. They were taught to be ashamed of their history and family, and in turn, to be ashamed of themselves for being Native Americans. According to the Martin-Baro Initiative for Wellbeing and Human Rights, these horrible schools still affect native tribes in their present day lives.
Beginning with the Indian Civilization Act Fund of 1819 and the Peace Policy of 1869, the United States implemented the Indian Boarding School Policy, which was intended for mass cultural genocide. This was done through the “removal and reprogramming” (NABS, 1) of American Indian and Alaska Native children with the intent of destruction of the Native communities. The slogan was “Kill the Indian, Save the Man.” Between 1869 and 1960, hundreds of thousands of Native children were forcibly removed from their homes and taught to throw away their culture in favor of western ideals. Backed by the Christian Church, they had to throw away their own religion and beliefs and learn how to live based on Christian rules and values.
These schools were mentally and physically abusive to children who were put there. They were punished for speaking in their native language, which was most likely the only language they knew at the time, banned from acting in any way that remotely resembled their old culture, stripped of their traditional clothing, hairstyles, and personal belongings that had anything to with their ‘old life’. They suffered physical, sexual, emotional, cultural and spiritual abuse and neglect. No one did anything to help them because the European Americans thought they were helping them be a part of their society, when they should have been trying to learn and be a part of the Native society. They took advantage of the Native Americans’ kindness and generosity and then destroyed what culture they hadn’t killed yet.
According to The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, by 1926, 83% of Native American school-age children were attending boarding schools. In 1900, 20,000 kids attended, and in 1925, 60,889 kids attended boarding schools. There were 367 boarding schools operating in 29 states in the US.
On September 30, 2021, The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition reintroduced a bill to help heal these communities called The Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the U.S. Act. This bill was announced in June and the impact of it means that the government is finally ready to acknowledge the consequences of the assimilative abuse practices in boarding schools, and how they are still affecting people today- generations from when this happened. NABS is urging Congress to support this legislation and help it become a reality. NABS’ president Ruth Anna Buffalo has stated that this movement has gained a lot of groundwork and is very important to help heal the people who are still affected by their treatment in those schools.