Indian boarding schools were an attempt by the governments of the United States and Canada to change the language, religion, and social structure of Indigenous societies and homogenize everyone into the same way of thinking and living. Although these schools predate the UN Genocide Convention by over fifty years, they meet the criteria of that definition of genocide.
Genocide is a legal term that emerged in the aftermath of World War II. The UN Genocide Convention – adopted by the member countries in 1948 but not ratified by the United States until 1988 – defines the crime of genocide as “any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national ethnical, racial, or religious group as such:
- Killing member of the group;
- Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
- Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
- Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
- Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group”
The participation of people with good intentions doesn’t change a system that exists to cause harm. In fact, the participation of good people ensures its success. In the United States and Canada, Christian denominations were funded by the government to create schools on and near Indian reservations. Most of these schools were run by the Catholic Church, but that does not absolve other denominations that only had a few of these schools or none at all. These schools – along with churches, policing, and child welfare – worked together to create a particular world. Christians, especially white Christians, were safe and comfortable in that world, even if they might have disliked the methods used by others to create it. It was, after all, the existence of these schools and the destruction of Indigenous committees that made way for towns and cities where white people could settle – towns and cities that often bear the names of displaced Native tribes.
From “Becoming Kin: An Indigenous Call to Unforgetting the Past and Reimagining Our Future” by Patty Krawec – Broadleaf Books