Please sign request for IAC thematic hearing on Native boarding school abuses in the U.S.
Posted By: Andy Smith
To: Members in Boarding School Healing Project
The Boarding School Healing Project is requesting a hearing on boarding school abuses committed against Native peoples in the United States through the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The BSHP needs as many organizations as possible to sign on to the request. Please let me know if your organization would be willing to do so. We need organizations rather than individuals, unless the individuals can be identified as key leaders in prominent organizations. If you are willing to sign on, you can email them to the BSHP email@example.com
Thanks for your help!
Here is the text for the request below:
Dr. Santiago A. Canton,
IACHR Executive Secretary
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
1889 F Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20006
Via Facsimile: (202) 458-3992
Dear Mr. Secretary:
The organizations and individuals listed below write pursuant to Article 64 of the Rules of Procedure of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to request the Commission to schedule a general interest hearing during its March 2010 session on the subject of the continuing effects of abuses of Native American children compelled by U.S. law to attend residential schools run or controlled by the state party, where they were subjected to physical, sexual, emotional, cultural and spiritual abuse.
The purpose of the hearing is to inform the Commission concerning the widespread and devastating continuing impacts of these human rights violations which directly resulted from the U.S. government’s de jure requirement that all Indigenous children attend such boarding schools, and its failure to exercise due diligence to prevent and protect Native children from abuses by state and religious officials acting as agents of the state.
At the hearing, we will present evidence that during the 19th and 20th centuries, American Indian and Alaska Native children were forcibly abducted from their homes to attend Christian boarding schools as a matter of United States government policy. In 1879, Captain Richard H. Pratt, an army veteran of the Indian wars, opened the first federally sanctioned boarding school: the Carlisle Industrial Training School, in Carlisle, Penn. Within three decades of Carlisle's opening, nearly 500 schools extended all the way to California. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) controlled 25 off-reservation boarding schools while churches ran 460 boarding and day schools on reservations with government funds. Attendance at such schools was officially mandated by House Executive Document No. 1, part 5, vol. II, 52 Congress, 2 session, serial 3088, pp. 28-31, which provided that “Any Indian who…shall adopt any means to prevent the attendance of children at school…shall be deemed to be guilty of an offense…”
The hearing evidence will show that, virtually imprisoned in the schools, Native children experienced a devastating litany of abuses, from forced assimilation and grueling labor to widespread sexual, physical and emotional abuse. Scholars have only
begun to analyze the cumulative effects of these historical experiences across gender and generation upon tribal communities today.
The evidence will demonstrate that both BIA and church schools ran on bare-bones budgets, and large numbers of students died from starvation and disease because of inadequate food and medical care. School officials routinely forced children to do arduous work to raise money for staff salaries and “leased out” students during the summers to farm or work as domestics for white families. Many children were prevented or unable to return to their families and communities until adulthood.
The evidence will also demonstrate that physical hardship was merely the backdrop to a systematic assault on Native culture. School staff sheared children's hair, banned traditional clothing and customs, and forced children to worship as Christians. Eliminating Native languages—considered an obstacle to the “acculturation” process—was a top priority, and teachers devised an extensive repertoire of punishments for uncooperative children. The loss of language cut deep into the heart of the Native community. As a result, of the approximately 155 Indigenous languages still spoken, it is estimated that 90% will extinct in 10 years. By 2050, there will be only 20 languages left, of which 90 percent of those will be facing extinction by 2060. Native scholars describe the destruction of their culture as a “soul wound,” from which Native Americans have not healed.
The hearing evidence will further establish that embedded deep within that wound is a pattern of sexual and physical abuse that began in the early years of the boarding school system. Rampant sexual abuse at reservation schools continued until the end of the 1980s, in part because of pre-1990 loopholes in state and federal law mandating the reporting of allegations of child sexual abuse. For example, in 1987 the FBI found evidence that John Boone, a teacher at the BIA-run Hopi day school in Arizona, had sexually abused as many as 142 boys from 1979 until his arrest in 1987. The principal failed to investigate a single abuse allegation. Boone, one of several BIA schoolteachers caught molesting children on reservations in the late 1980s, was convicted of child abuse, and he received a life sentence. Acting BIA chief William Ragsdale admitted that the agency had not been sufficiently responsive to allegations of sexual abuse, and he apologized to the Hopi tribe and others whose children BIA employees had abused.
At the hearing, we would submit evidence that the effects of the widespread sexual abuse in the schools continue to ricochet through Native communities today. The abuse has dealt repeated blows to the traditional social structure of Indian communities. Before colonization, Native women generally enjoyed high status, according to scholars, and violence against women, children, and elders was virtually non-existent. Today, sexual abuse and violence have reached epidemic proportions in Native communities, along with alcoholism and suicide. By the end of the first decade of the 21st century, the sexual assault rate among Native Americans was three-and-a-half times higher than for any other ethnic group in the U.S., according to the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics. Alcoholism in Native communities is currently six times higher than the national average. Researchers are just beginning to establish quantitative links between these epidemic rates and the legacy of boarding schools.
Not only were the acts and policies concerning which we will present evidence in clear violation of Articles 5, 6, 7, 12, 13, 17, 19, 22 and 24, but they have continuing impacts on the well-being of Indigenous people across the U.S.
Because of the significance and complexity of the issues, we request that a full hour be allocated for this hearing. Participants in the hearing will include survivors of Indian residential schools, Native scholars, anti-violence advocates, and attorneys who have worked with survivors in their pursuit of justice.
We are requesting that a representative of the United States be present at the hearing. We also respectfully suggest that the matters to be presented at the hearing may be of particular interest to the Commission’s Special Rapporteurs on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Rights of Women and the Rights of the Child and request that the Special Rapporteurs also be in attendance.
Please direct any questions concerning this request to the attention of Andrea J. Ritchie, Esq., 995 President St., Brooklyn, New York, 11225, ph: (646) 831-1243 (646) 831-1243, fax (212) 533-4598, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for your consideration of our request.
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