The Family Weekly: America’s Dark History of Native American Assimilation Schools

Plus: Twins who aren’t quite identical or fraternal, and the story of pen pals who have kept in touch in the digital age

(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


(Courtesy of Allison Lantero)

In this week’s installment of The Friendship Files: A city girl and a farm girl met over the summer 20 years ago, exchanging letters to stay in touch in between infrequent visits. Well into adulthood, they remain friends, despite never having lived in the same place, though they don’t send each other snail mail on fancy stationery anymore thanks to faster means of communication like Facebook and Snapchat.
→ Read the rest

If twins aren’t exactly fraternal, and aren’t exactly identical, it’s possible that they are sesquizygotic. Sarah Zhang explains the biology and genetics that bring these rare types of twins into the world: Three extremely unusual things need to happen, beginning with a single egg fertilized by two sperm. Although there’s still a bit of medical mystery around sequizgotes—these twins are sometimes called chimeras—they tend to live perfectly healthy lives, and you might not be able to tell the difference.
→ Read the rest

Low-income families and people of color are typically more likely to live on the front lines when natural disasters hit. They’re also less likely to receive the same level of support that affluent families receive in the aftermath. And now a recently published study has found that pregnant mothers who lived through natural disasters can pass on the stress from that experience to their babies in utero. The research has troubling implications for families with limited resources to face environmental issues and a lack of access to health care.
→ Read the rest

Dear Therapist

(Bianca Bagnarelli)

Every Monday, the psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb answers readers’ questions about life’s trials and tribulations, big or small, in The Atlantic’s “Dear Therapist” column.

This week, Maggie writes about moving in with her long-distance boyfriend after several years. It’s the first time that she’s navigated his depression—and his reluctance to start medication—up close and personal. She loves him, and he’s moved away from his family and friends for her, but she says that their interactions now make her feel as if she’s walking on eggshells sometimes. How can she best support him, and keep her own peace of mind?

Lori’s advice: It’s important to find a balance between being supportive and unhelpful with your advice. Couples therapy might help you come up with a plan to tag-team a response to the depressive episodes, and it might also help with other underlying tensions around the recent move:

You can guide your boyfriend toward what might help in the day-to-day (exercise, sunlight, eating well, getting out of the house, staying in touch with family or friends), but you can’t be his therapist. What you can do is make sure that you exercise, get together with friends or go to social events (with or without him), and don’t take his mood personally.

→ Read the rest

Send Lori your questions at