The driving principle behind these boarding schools, rooted in white supremacy, was that Native children would be better served if they were stripped of their culture and forced to assimilate into white, Christian society. But this dark chapter in American history has largely been unacknowledged by the government—until now.
In June 2021, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced the creation of the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative. Its primary goal is to investigate and document the loss of human life and the lasting consequences of these schools.
In Sept. 2021, the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the U.S. Act (H.R. 5444/S. 2907) was introduced in Congress. If passed, the legislation would establish the first formal commission in U.S. history to investigate the human rights violations that were committed and make recommendations for further government action.
This reckoning must extend to the Quaker community, too. As chronicled in Friends Journal, Quakers managed a number of these schools, and conditions were brutal. As Lakota physician Charles Eastman said, recalling his experience at a Quaker school: “We youthful warriors were held up and harassed … until not a semblance of our native dignity and self-respect was left.”
We must acknowledge our complicity in the historic trauma of the boarding school era. Now is the time to work in solidarity with tribal nations, tribal organizations, and the broader faith community to advance congressional efforts to establish a truth, reconciliation, and healing process for all those affected.