August 4, 2015, Prescott- One of the features of life on Earth that most sticks in my craw is the mistreatment of children. This morning, I spent about ninety minutes, listening to one of the people I most admire in this world: Philip N. Lane, Jr., an hereditary chief of the White Swan band of the Dakota Nation. Chief Phil has been working with indigenous people, in various parts of the world, for over thirty-five years. His focus has been the creation of a culture of dignity and positive self-regard, aspects of life that were long repressed among Native Peoples, by the dominant culture, in the name of “assimilation”.
Indigenous North Americans, Andeans, Amazonians, Siberians, Saami, Hawaiians, Maori,Native Australians, Ainu, Hill Tribesmen of northeast India, Dravidians, Native Saharans, and the nomadic peoples of the Kalahari and Namib deserts have long been told their cultures and ways of life do not jibe with “reality”, as identified by the powers that be, in their lands of residence.
One of the most effective ways that conquerors have found, in creating a culture of self-loathing, and hence submission, is to remove the children of the repressed ones from their home communities, place them in compulsory residential schools, and systematically quash all traces of the native culture within the psyches and personas of the child-residents. This was done in the United States, Canada and the Soviet Union, throughout much of the Twentieth Century, with an actual view towards “turning savages into human beings.”
I grew up seeing, and sometimes receiving, corporal punishment in a regular public school in Massachusetts, in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. I have been grabbed and shaken by an angry teacher, seen a friend in another class thrown violently against a wall and witnessed other unnecessary acts, harmful acts, by teachers, administrators, and, later, by a Catholic priest, who was ultimately found guilty, defrocked and disgraced.
As a new teacher, I found myself initially subscribing to forceful techniques, though thankfully not to the extent that a child suffered lasting damage. I owned up to it,made amends, and was able to move on to more humane and effective ways of correcting misbehaviour. It was a long road, but I was then able to focus on helping the abused children to recognize that they were not at fault, that the beatings I witnessed at a private boarding school, in the late 1970’s were the true aberration, and that no one should have to suffer in silence, or alone.
Getting back to the Native American boarding schools, and many of the Federal and state day schools: The schools which “served” Indian, Native Alaskan, and Native Hawaiian children, like the Black and Hispanic schools, under Jim Crow laws, were hotbeds of cultural repression, language extinction and harrowing punishment, which included acts of sexual violence against children and teenagers. The most casual and innocent use of a Native tongue was punished, severely, by school staff ( I will not use the term, “teacher”, here. These individuals negated the definition of the word.). These individuals were both secular and clergy, and had no other goal than the advancement of the national economy. Money trumped all else, as it often still does.
Chief Phil Lane, Jr. was a recipient of this kind of miseducation and ,to this day, has had to continuously re-educate, and re-train himself, which he is doing admirably. I have met many people, in the indigenous communities, and in the wider world, who have expressed hatred for who they think I am, based on my light skin, brown hair and blue eyes. The only remedy for this, given what these people have endured, is patience, and staying the course of building a healing environment.
We still have a long way to go, and I am grateful to Phil Lane, and others who have arisen to outline what needs to be done. I will introduce his 16 Principles of creating a nurturing culture, in a series of posts, very soon.