(Courtesy of Bad River Historic Preservation Office and Mary Annette Pember)
This Week in Family
Two hundred years ago this week, Congress passed the Civilization Fund Act of 1819. It marked the start of an official government program that authorized Christian missionaries to set up boarding schools for Native Americans aimed at teaching them “good moral character.” In effect, the policy legalized the forcible separation of Native American children from their parents, and the schools were designed to erase as much of their cultural identity and heritage as possible, often through violent and traumatic means. This week, two Native American writers trace the vividly personal histories of this policy.
The journalist Mary Pember embarked on a journey to find her mother’s records at the boarding school she attended in her childhood. Pember’s mother was reluctant to speak about her traumatic experiences, but Pember felt an urge to seek that history in order to reckon with the dark side of American history. “Healing is possible,” Pember writes, but it won’t come without a true understanding of the past.
→ Read Pember’s account
“The vestiges remain in that many Natives are suffering,” novelist David Treuer told Alia Wong in a Q&A about his new book The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee, and the legacy of assimilation schools, which weren’t outlawed until the late 1970s. But for every one of those narratives, “there are 20, 30, 50, 100 other kids selling Girl Scout cookies or going to tennis lessons or doing their homework or competing on the math team or getting excited about prom...They’re living their lives—they’re not just exhibiting their pain.”
→ Read the Q&A