For nine years, my brother and I were political prisoners, along with the other Ahnishinahbæótjibway children of our generation. We were forcibly removed from our community and our relatives, and confined to the grounds of a prison within a concentration camp, the Federally mandated compulsory-education schools. We could not leave the school, on penalty of being beaten or chloroformed if we were caught.
My grandfather Bah-wah-we-nind, who had protected us, died the spring before we were taken away and put into the boarding school. My brother, who was younger than I was, did not understand that my grandfather was really dead. He wanted to go see my grandfather. He kept asking, and asking, to go see my grandfather. Since we were not allowed to leave the school grounds, we ran away, and went to the log house that had been my grandfather's.
Three times that first winter my brother and I were at the school, we went through the woods that were there at that time, thick jack-pine and white pine and Norway pines, the virgin forest that still stood between St. Mary's Mission school and my grandfather's house in Ba-kwa-kwan. We stood at the gate to my grandfather's horse pasture. Just west of the gate, there were the graves of my great-grandfather and great-grandmother, and a number of my other relatives.
My brother and I stood in the snow at my grandfather's gate, and looked at the log house where he had once lived. The house was empty. The snow lay thick, there were no tracks in the yard, and no smoke came out of the chimney. My brother was hoping so hard that my grandfather would be there, but he was not there. I kept telling my brother, "He's dead, he's gone, and he's not coming back." My brother was too young to really understand at first. The Métis would not tell us where my grandfather had been buried, and I could not take my brother to his grave.
He was just a little guy, five years old. The last time we went to my grandfather's house, a neighbor saw us walking along the road. "Where are you kids going," he asked us in Ahnishinahbæótjibway. We had to answer in English, because we had been beaten so many times and had our mouths washed out with soap for speaking our language at the school, that we didn't dare speak our own language. He knew that we had been looking for our grandfather. He just came over and buttoned up the little thin coat that my brother had on, and hugged my brother. He said, "it's better that you go back to the school," because he knew what would happen if we were caught away from the school. My brother and I went back to the school, and he was crying all the way. Our mother had died when my brother was still a baby, and our father was in the tuberculosis sanatorium at Ah-gwah-ching. Because of the compulsory-education laws unilaterally passed by the United States, our surviving relatives could not keep us, and we had to go back to the school.
The United States Government had justified the compulsory-education laws to the general public by saying they wanted to civilize us. One of the formulators of Indian policy, Dr. Lyman Abbott, stated in his paper, "Education for the Indian:"[i]
Schools are less expensive than war. It costs less to educate an Indian than it does to shoot him. A long and costly experience demonstrated that fact.
One of the goals of the boarding schools was to change the identity of Ahnishinahbæótjibway and other Aboriginal Indigenous children into that of Indian. We had the sloganized definitions of ourselves, "dirty Indians," "little savages," and the "vanishing Americans," continually drummed into our ears in the classroom. We have never been either Indians or "Americans." The agenda of the compulsory education schools was genocide: directly through the hundreds of children who died at the school or who were infected with tuberculosis there; and by changing the identity of the survivors into Indians. The schools were prisons, filled with human rights violations against defenseless young children.
Compulsory education of Ahnishinahbæótjibway children is specifically designed to obliterate our identity, our culture, and our existence as a Sovereign people. When the compulsory-education laws were being formulated in the 1880's and 1890's, they were presented to the policy-makers at the Lake Mohonk Conference as the only viable alternative:[ii]
The method of the first--unhesitatingly, unblushingly avowed--is extermination. I have myself been met, when expostulating with one of these assassins, with the indignant retort, "You would not spare the young of the rattlesnake, would you?" He had declared that he would clear the reptiles out, root and branch; that the squaws were worse and more barbarous than the bucks, and he would destroy even the papooses. ... It is much to be regretted that a weak sentimentality should lead true friends of the aborigines to listen rather to the chiefs than to those who consider the real advantage of the whole tribe, and, indeed, the interests of civilization. That the cause of peace and quietness, the progress of Christian settlement across the continent, and in short the welfare of the white races are involved in the permanent absorption of all the tribes into the American nation, is, perhaps, a generally recognized fact.
The "welfare of the white races," who are immigrants illegally here, was promoted by compulsory education, a less bloody form of extermination. As Mr. Townsend, a Métis student of the Carlisle Indian School, told the Lake Mohonk policy-makers:[iii]
I believe in education, because I believe it will kill the Indian that is in me, and leave the man and the citizen. ... I believe in the Indian learning the English language: one people, one language, that is my idea. I contradict the statement that the only good Indian is a dead Indian. The only good Indian is an educated Indian.
My grandfather, born in the 1850's, had not been brainwashed by education. My father's generation was the first at Red Lake to be put through the pulverizing machine of compulsory education. The contrast between these two men of my childhood: Bah-wah-we-nind, my grandfather, and my father, was the consequence of compulsory education. My grandfather was a tower of strength, a man whose heart was filled with compassionate love, although he had been imprisoned for sixty years in this concentration camp called Red Lake Reservation, although he had witnessed and been powerless to prevent the Holocaust of the Ahnishinahbæótjibway, including most of his family the Bear Dodem.
My father was among the few Ahnishinahbæótjibway men of his generation who had survived the most brutal first phase of compulsory boarding-school education, and it had shattered him. He tried to live within the Indian identity that was forced onto him in the boarding schools, and his spirit was broken. He died at the age of 38, from the tuberculosis which was brought into our community. Tuberculosis was genocide. At the Lake Mohonk Conference of 1890, it was said:[iv]
The full-blood Indians [sic] have less endurance than the half or mixed-bloods; and when attacked by tuberculosis or any form of scrofula, they perish more quickly. ... The well-attested fact that consumption is the scourge of the Indian [sic] in the climate of Dakota, where pulmonary diseases among whites are almost unknown, points conclusively to the fact that there has been and is that, in the peculiar conditions of Indian [sic] life, which engenders the disease. ... The more thoroughly the contagious nature of tuberculosis is established, the more terrible the present condition of the Indian appears. It is stated on good authority that tuberculous cattle are constantly sold to and consumed by the Indians [sic]. Their only hope is in a common knowledge of every-day affairs, which shall protect them from their enemy, the unscrupulous white man ...
St. Mary's Catholic Mission School was a contract school, funded by United States appropriations out of trust funds generated by the illegal sale of Ahnishinahbæótjibway lands, and except for the great emphasis on Roman Catholic dogma, was not much different from the United States Government Indian schools.
The physical conditions of the boarding schools are preserved in documents:
Conditions at these schools with respect to medical attention, housing, and sanitation leave much to be desired. The general death rate is ordinarily accepted as the best single index of the social wellbeing of a people. As pointed out elsewhere in this report the statistics for the Indians are incomplete and more or less unreliable, and the published death rates for Indians are in many cases obviously understatements of the true conditions. The existing figures, unreliable as they are, indicate, however, a high general death rate with all that connotes of suffering both physical and emotional ...[v] The labor of children as carried on in the Indian boarding schools would, it is believed, constitute a violation of child labor laws in most states ...[vi] Old buildings, often kept in use long after they should have been pulled down, and admittedly bad fire-risks in many instances; crowded dormitories; conditions of sanitation ... certainly below accepted standards; boilers and machinery out-of-date and in some instances unsafe, to the point of having long since been condemned, but never replaced; many medical officers who are of low standards of training and relatively unacquainted with the methods of modern medicine, to say nothing of health education for the children; lack of milk sufficient to give children anything like the official "standard" of a quart per child per day, almost none of the fresh fruits and vegetables ... the serious malnutrition, due to the lack of food and use of the wrong foods; schoolrooms seldom showing knowledge of modern principles of lighting and ventilating; lack of recreational opportunities... an abnormally long day, which cuts to a dangerous point the normal allowance for sleep and rest ... the generally routinized nature of the institutional life ... its annihilation of initiative, its lack of beauty, its almost complete negation of normal family life, all of which have disastrous effects upon mental health ...[vii]
In 1928, the Brookings Institute considered it necessary to ask the question, "Can the Indian be 'Educated'?" The authors answered:
It is necessary at this point to consider one question that is always raised in connection with an educational program for Indians: Is it really worth while to do anything for Indians, or are they an "inferior" race? Can the Indian be "educated"?
The question as usually asked implies, it should be noted, the restricted notion of education as mere formal schooling against which caution has already been pronounced; but whether schooling of the intellectual type is meant or education in the broader sense of desirable individual and social changes, the answer can be given unequivocally: The Indian is essentially capable of education.[viii] ... The real goals of education are not "reading, writing, and arithmetic"--not even teaching Indians to speak English, though that is important, but ... good citizenship in the sense of an understanding participation in community life, ability to earn one's own living honesty and efficiently in a socially worthwhile vocation, comfortable and desirable home and family life, and good character.[ix]
In 1929, the Brookings Institute recommended re-organization, and expansion of the Bureau of Indian Affairs as the solution for the abysmal conditions in the schools which the Meriam staff documented, although when I entered St. Mary's Mission School at Red Lake, the conditions at that school had not changed from those documented six years earlier. Forty-eight years later, in 1977, the United States Congress reported, in the Final Report of the American Indian Policy Review Commission:
INDIAN READINESS. What could be the decisive factor in determining national Indian policy is the state of readiness of the Indian population. Many negative conditions still prevail: Educational levels are still much too low; the delivery of health services is grossly inadequate; wretched housing breeds health problems and social ills; unemployment rates greatly exceed local and national averages. ...[x] a position little better than that which he enjoyed in 1928 when the Meriam Report was issued.[xi]
The United States Congress' recommendations in 1977 did not differ in substance from those made in 1928. The main departure from the policies of the previous century was that, although the Bureau of Indian Affairs was to be, yet again, restructured, re-organized, and re-entrenched, the expansion in this new round of reform focused on the Tribal Governments created and controlled by the Bureau of Indian Affairs under the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, rather than with direct and clear-cut lines of accountability through the explicitly federal agency of the B.I.A. The Europeans say, "the more things change, the more they remain the same." In 1994, Ahnishinahbæótjibway children still get an abusive, culture-destroying and personally damaging compulsory education.
In 1887, the policy-makers of the Lake Mohonk Conference of Friends of the Indian referred to the "complicated and expensive machine which, under the general name of 'our Indian policy,' we have been running these two hundred and odd years."[xii] Professor Painter, who made these remarks, saw the seamless continuity between the British and American Indian Policy. Because the treaties on which the United States' claim to land rested on the assent of European subject peoples, the participants at Lake Mohonk did not refer, except indirectly, to the two distinct peoples combined into the artificial category of Indian. Some of the code-words were "civilized Indians," "advanced Indians," "Christian Indians," vs. "blanket Indians," "pagan Indians," and "Indian animal." The difference between the policy applied to the European subject Métis people and to Aboriginal Indigenous people may not have been clearly and explicitly enunciated in publicly distributed documents, but it was and is there.
The Reservation schools at Red Lake operated simultaneously as boarding schools and as day schools. Ahnishinahbæótjibway children at Red Lake were, over the course of two generations, forcibly removed from our families and held prisoner at the school. The Métis children, particularly those of the leading families, went to day school, at the same school. These children attended classes during the day, but did not participate in the labor at school (manual training) that we were forced to perform. They went home at night to their families. These Métis children were not beaten for speaking languages other than English (for example French and the hierarchical Creole language of Chippewa).
The United States Government policies which created the compulsory-education schools as a tool of cultural annihilation were formulated at a time when the question of whether Indians were closer to what the White policy-makers called the "half-brain" race of the Negroes, or the "full-brain" Aryans, was somberly considered and discussed. The long-range agenda was, as explained by Senator Dawes in 1890:[xiii]
The census will, I think, reveal some startling facts in regard to the Indians. We have been under the impression for the last twenty-five years that the Indian has been increasing. That, I think, will appear not to be true for the last ten years. The aggregate will fall, I am informed, considerably short of what it was in 1880. The loss is mostly confined to the full bloods. Mixed bloods hold their own better, and are increasing in this land.
The Indian people will not remain as a separate race among us, as the black race must. The figures show where he is going. He is to disappear in the midst of our population, be absorbed in it, and be one of us and fade out of sight as an Indian. So you must administer the Indian Bureau with that in mind. ... Their blood, their sinew, their strength are needed, and will help us.
I was taken to St. Mary's Catholic Mission School at Red Lake in the Fall of 1935 as an orphan, although my father was still living, incarcerated at the Ah-gwah-ching tuberculosis asylum. During that summer, my brother and I had worked hanging fish-nets for our relatives, standing on fish-boxes to reach the net-racks where nets are untangled and dried. We had earned enough money, hanging nets, to buy ourselves new clothes with which to start school.
All of the compulsory education boarding schools at that time were run on a military basis. The nuns took our clothes, and all the rest of our personal possessions away from us. In the Western European way of thinking, this standard military procedure was done to depersonalize us, and regiment us into following their commands. They issued us old, patched-up clothes which had been donated to the Mission. (Old, worn-out, useless clothes are still sent by the truckload to Indian Reservations. The Catholic Missions solicited donations, and then sorted through them. The nice clothes were, and still are, sold to the community at a thrift store run by the Mission. The unsalable clothing was patched, and used to clothe the children in the boarding school.) Each week, we were allowed to bathe, and were issued a different set of clothing. There was no place in the dormitory for a change of clothing, nor any other personal possessions. We didn't have a locker, nor any other place that was our own private space. Our only personal possession was a toothbrush, hanging in a numbered spot on a communal rack, but since most of the children at the boarding school could neither count nor read, others used our toothbrushes.
The girls' dormitory still stands at the St. Mary's Mission Grounds just west of Redlake. The boys' dormitory was torn down in the 1970's, and the Government boarding schools were burned to the ground. The boys' dormitory was a two-story building, with the sleeping quarters on the top floor, and the shop, library, matron's workroom, playroom, and reading room on the first floor. There was a wood-working shop, and showers and toilets in the basement. The sleeping-quarters consisted of a large room, with about sixty children sleeping in old G.I.-issue steel army cots, arranged in rows. The beds were close together, and we slept alternating heads and feet. There was also a sickroom with three beds, the Prefect's quarters (I never went in there, so I don't know what it looked like), and there were about twenty beds in a separate room for children who wet the bed. The mattresses in this room were straw-ticks, rotted from urine. There were four big statues in the boy's dormitory, including one of Jesus nailed to the Cross. The Prefect was always praying to the statues, going from one end of the room to the other.
The dormitories were cleaned on the Army system. We had an ample supply of sawdust, because our forests were being cut. We would dampen the sawdust, and use it to sweep the floors. Every morning, after breakfast, a bucket was passed from child to child, and we mopped up around and under our beds.
Many dormitories, especially those occupied by boys, are not provided with night toilets on the upper floors.[xiv]
In the corner of the dormitory, there were two big washtubs for the boys to piss in during the night. Every morning, they were full. Two of the boys had to carry them outside. Children were assigned to different projects: to clean out the toilets downstairs, to mop down the stairways, shovel snow, haul wood, whatever needed to be done--like the Army.
Most of the staff at St. Mary's Mission School, including the Priests and Nuns, were Germans. They and the hired help spoke German, except the French barn boss, who spoke a French Creole. The Priest spoke Latin when he was saying Mass, and the Nuns spoke English in the classrooms. The whole thing was foreign: Western European history, religion, and languages. The only thing that we were taught about ourselves was that everything Ahnishinahbæótjibway--our families, our culture, our language--would be destroyed, completely annihilated from Grandmother Earth and from Grandfather Midé.
We were awakened by a bell, at six o'clock in the morning.
Facilities for washing face and hands are often of the trough type. In some places the water is obtained through spigots and in some through a perforated pipe controlled by a master valve.[xv]
There was a trough, with a pipe with holes drilled in it, for the water. We washed in cold water, with small pieces of soap donated to the Mission, or with G.I. soap.
At six-thirty, we were lined up and marched to Mass, which was celebrated in Latin, and then the Priest would give a sermon. Father Simon gave sermons in two hierarchical languages, English and Chippewa Creole, which he deluded himself into thinking was the language of the Ahnishinahbæótjibway. Like everything else that was told to us in school, what Father Simon said didn't make any sense to those of us who understood the Ahnishinahbæótjibway language. We didn't dare repeat what he had said in Chippewa, nor discuss it, because we would get a beating for not speaking English. Father Simon's sermons were fire-and-brimstone. He would castigate the "Pagans across the lake," and would castigate the Ahnishinahbæótjibway and our Dodems, particularly those of the relatively intact community in Ponemah. Then, he would shout that the Protestants were pagans, and were going to Hell. The Catholics were the only true believers, the priests preached to us, "Catholicism was the only true religion of Jesus Christ." When he gave a sermon, Father Simon would scream and wave his arms like Hitler giving a political speech, and his face would get so red that we thought he might blow a blood vessel. After Mass, we had breakfast--mush, and after "policing" the dormitory, we were marched to classes. We spent a lot of time learning catechism.
When I first went into the Catholic Mission School, there was Jesus Christ strung up on a cross right in the classrooms. It was a terrifying experience for Ahnishinahbæótjibway children from a non-violent culture, to see them killing a man like that and then entertaining themselves with the enthusiastic telling and re-telling of this abomination. In our Catechism classes, the nuns told us every gory detail--spitting on Him, beating Him, making Him carry His cross. The Nuns added on, describing the way that one or two men held a plank across Jesus' head, and somebody leaned on it to make the crown of thorns go into His head. They enjoyed telling how He was beaten. They told how the blood ran out, how bloody He was, and I said to myself, "Wow! What kind of people are these?" They scared me. I still have nightmares about this gruesome violence. When I was stationed in Bamberg, Germany, I went to see the Passion Play, which brought back memories of my revulsion toward the Christian religion's fascination with violent death.
There were two grades in each classroom, and also there was a two-tiered instructional agenda: one curriculum for the Métis, and another for the Ahnishinahbæótjibway children. At that time, it was scientific knowledge that the I.Q. of Aboriginal Indigenous children was around 70, another example of science operating in a positive feedback loop with a social engineering agenda. The I.Q. tests were given in English, which we did not understand, and we were evaluated on our ability to reason in a linear, compartmentalized way which is inimical to Ahnishinahbæótjibway thinking. We were treated as though we were stupid; as though we were incapable of learning to read or write, and many of us internalized this definition of ourselves. The Métis children, particularly the light-skinned ones, were favored by the teachers, and some of them went on to higher education.
The children were fed a high-carbohydrate diet: lots of white bread with flour-gravy, and occasionally beets (which are a European crop). The survivors of Indian Boarding Schools have terrible teeth, and other health problems including diabetes, from the boarding-school diet.[xvi]
The dictionary definition of discipline includes, "religious mortification or punishment, ... punishment inflicted by way of correction and training ... to bring to a state of order and obedience by training and control."[xvii] Ahnishinahbæótjibway social controls worked because each individual valued the harmony of our society, and took responsibility for the consequences of their own actions. Creating a centralized father figure who maintained order through violence, and then blaming him when things go wrong, is a kind of social organization which Ahnishinahbæótjibway see as irresponsible.
The violent discipline to which Ahnishinahbæótjibway children were subjected in the boarding schools was intended to launch cycles of violence within our families through the generations, destroy our Dodems and our autonomous social controls, and create the need for an external police-state. The Meriam Report touched very briefly on the violent military discipline in the boarding-schools:
The discipline in the boarding schools is restrictive rather than developmental....[xviii] The methods practiced in disciplining children are often unwise....[xix] Nearly every boarding school visited furnished disquieting illustrations of failure to understand the underlying principles of human behavior. Punishments of the most harmful sort are bestowed in sheer ignorance, often in a sincere attempt to be of help ...[xx]
Ahnishinahbæótjibway children were forbidden to speak our own native language. The Nuns and the Prefect carried a clip-board with all our names on it, and during the day they kept track of all of our infractions of school rules, including saying a single word of Ahnishinahbæótjibway. We had to be in bed by ten o'clock at night. The lights were turned off, and then in a few minutes, they were turned on again. The Prefect would go down the rows of beds in the dormitory. We never knew at whose bed he was going to stop. He would turn down the blanket, and take his strap to us as we lay in our beds, and beat us. We were never told why we were being punished. Other discipline included "running the gauntlet," in which the child to be punished had to go between two lines of children, and the children in the lines had to kick and hit the child who was running. If the Prefect thought that the child had not been hit enough, they would make them run through again, or single out those of us who had not hit and kicked, and make us beat on them. Discipline at the U.S. Government and Mission Schools also included chloroforming children. The smell of chloroform and ether still haunt me.
The purpose of the Boarding Schools for the Ahnishinahbæótjibway children was, according to U.S. Government documents[xxi], to destroy our community and our culture. There were Métis children at St. Mary's Mission school from Pine Point, Leech Lake, White Earth, White Oak Point, and other places who were boarders, but the Métis children from Red Lake were day-school students. The Chippewa Indian boarding students were already Christians with European values. They were treated differently than the Ahnishinahbæótjibway, and many of them were tracked into a high-school education. The B.I.A. educated some of them to be Indian community leaders, and also used them as a smokescreen to divert public attention away from the genocide which was directed toward the Ahnishinahbæótjibway children. This is part of the larger pattern of the U.S. Government's relationship with their Chippewa Indians.
The Ahnishinahbæótjibway children were kept isolated from the community, although the parents of some of them were allowed to visit on weekends. We had to stay on the school grounds. My brother and I used to sit at the edge of the school grounds, and watch people walking along what was then a gravel road, and the teams of horses and cars that occasionally went by. We knew every car on the Reservation, and could recognize them at a great distance. One of the things we noticed: when a person came to work for the Bureau at Red Lake, they started their term of employment driving an old car, but it didn't take long until they were driving a brand-new car.
We had to go to every church service, except funerals. We were not allowed to go to funerals, and we did not dare go close enough to the church to find out who had died. About once a week, a child died at St. Mary's. These deaths were obscured from us. We were marched out of the building until the body was removed. Whenever anybody disappeared, we were told, "they went home." Hundreds and hundreds of children, from Red Lake and from other communities, must have died during the years that the Mission School was a boarding school. Many more of our people died from diseases or abuse contracted in the Boarding Schools at Red Lake.
General Thomas Morgan explained to the Lake Mohonk Conference in 1889:
Whatever steps are necessary should be taken to place these children under proper educational influences. If under any circumstances compulsory education is justifiable, it certainly is in this case. Education, in the broad sense in which it is here used, is the Indian's only salvation.... Education should seek the disintegration of the tribes.
The Boarding Schools at Red Lake were closed when the United States entered World War II.
[i].Reverend Lyman Abbott, D.D., "Education for the Indian," keynote address, Lake Mohonk Conference of 1888.
[ii].Proceedings of the Lake Mohonk Conference, October 12, 1886, from a paper read by Mr. Philip C. Garrett, of Philadelphia.
[iii].Lake Mohonk Conference, 1891, Proceedings, page 104, speech of Mr. W. Townsend, an Indian student from Carlisle.
[iv].Lake Mohonk Conference, 1890, from a paper, "The Indian Health Question," by Dr. Martha M. Waldron.
[v].The Problem of Indian Administration, Lewis Meriam, editor; submitted to Secretary of the Interior Hubert Work, February 21, 1928, page 107.
[vi].Ibid, page 376.
[vii].Ibid, pages 292-293.
[viii].Ibid, pages 351-2.
[ix].Ibid, page 373.
[x].American Indian Policy Review Commission, Final Report, Submitted to Congress, May 17, 1977, Volume one of two volumes, page 81.
[xi].Ibid, page 3, in a section paginated with page numbers in parentheses.
[xii].Lake Mohonk Conference, 1887, address of C.C. Painter.
[xiii].Senator Dawes, Lake Mohonk Conference of Friends of the Indian, 1890, Proceedings, page 84.
[xiv].The Problem of Indian Administration, Lewis Meriam, editor, 1928, page 317.
[xv].Ibid, page 318.
[xvi].Most of the food which is sold through centralized grocery stores is just as unhealthy. We need to go back to planting our own gardens, restoring our permaculture, and eating our traditional Ahnishinahbæótjibway foods. The food supply available to us is contaminated with preservatives, additives, and agricultural chemicals. We need to critically consider the extent of our involvement in the Western European economic system--hoarding food is not Ahnishinahbæótjibway.
[xvii].The New Century Dictionary, page 428, Op. cit..
[xviii].The Problem of Indian Administration, page 14, Op. cit..
[xix].Ibid, page 332.
[xx].Ibid, page 382.
[xxi].If the reader would like further information, one can begin with any U.S. Government policy document on Indian education prior to 1920, chosen at random since the U.S. justifications were annually reiterated. If one understands the meanings of the word Indian in these documents, the policy was explicit.