It is NO Secret that the church played an important role in establishing colonial rule in North America. But if, like me, you grew up in the American educational system, you may never have heard of the Christian-run boarding schools where Native American children were forcibly enrolled and then tried to wipe out their culture. Thankfully, in recent years, the ugly truth about these schools has come to light – mostly in Canada, but now in the US as well.
Recently the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, or NABS, said it will Digitize 20,000 archive pages with reference to boarding schools run by Quakers, according to The Associated Press. Similar to Canada now notorious boarding schoolsQuakers – or members of the Religious Society of Friends – separated Native American children from their families in order to teach them Christianity and force them to attend Western education.
The documents are to be published Boarding school records from Kansas, New York, Pennsylvania and four other states will be included next spring AP.
Such schools were not just a Quaker thing. (It should be noted that the Quaker movement is also included positive activismespecially during slavery.) Other schools that attempted to “assimilate” native children were run by Bishops, Methodists and Catholics.
Run by the locals NABS works with libraries Swarthmore College and Haverford College in Pennsylvania to make the files available to all who AP reports. Although neglected for far too long, the accessibility of this kind of historical knowledge is a positive example of what can happen when institutions are willing to admit their mistakes and provide a more accurate account of the past.
If we have more information about the Quaker-run boarding schools, we can better understand what happened inside them and how they were organized – a story that is largely hidden from the public eye. It will also allow us to understand the full extent of the impact of these schools had on Native American children and appreciate their experiences.
“These records can be really important in truth-finding processes and in recognizing and helping to repair past damage,” Celia Caust-Ellenbogen, associate curator at Swarthmore’s Friends Historical Library, told the AP. “By making these archival records available and digitizing them, we can help restore access to impacted communities.”
However, we must remain critical of what we find, as many of the documents were produced from the perspective of the boarders and not essentially from the children’s perspective bear brainwashed, abuse or worse.
These records require a deep understanding of colonialism as a system that has been continually strengthened throughout history, including through the invasion of lands and the annihilation of entire populations. But it also works by teaching kids that Christopher Columbus “discovered” America and that the customs they grew up with are uncivilized or wrong – thereby wiping out the humanity of the indigenous people who lived here long before a European ever arrived.
While the Quaker community can never undo the trauma and pain it caused to so many Native American communities, it can begin the healing process by being honest with its history and building from there with more clarity.