Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

October 25, 2014

Beatings and Shame: Native Americans Testify at Boarding School Tribunal

By Brenda Norrell
GREEN BAY, Wisconsin -- The testimony of Native Americans who were beaten in boarding schools concluded on Friday, during the three day Boarding School Tribunal here. Native Americans described being kidnapped from their families and not seeing them for years, while they endured severe beatings and starvation in boarding schools operated by the governments of the United States and Canada and religious organizations.
Imprisoned activist Leonard Peltier’s written statement was read into the record, describing the way he was kidnapped and beaten in boarding school.
Madonna Thunder Hawk shared the story of a Lakota elder from Cheyenne River in South Dakota. At four years old, he was thrown against the wall repeatedly until his bones were broken for wetting the bed in boarding school. Now, he is over 70 years old and his back is still scarred from the beatings there.

Bill Means, Lakota, described how his father’s job was to care for the horses in boarding schools. One of his friends was beaten to death by the school staff when one of the horses ran into barbed wire as the boys tried to catch him.
Roxanna Banguis, Ed.D., Tlingit, Haida and Sechelt, said her mother told her that there were constant beatings in the boarding school in Sechelt B.C. When the school partially burned down, skeletons of babies were found in the walls.
"The sexual molesters, the predators, found a job where they can abuse children."
"The worst is the baby skeletons they found in those walls. We don't know if those were Native Americans, or from the nuns." She said the nuns were not celibate.
One young man from Michigan described being raped by a priest at the age of five, the blood running down his leg, and the trauma remaining for the rest of his life.
Grand Chief Terrance Nelson of the Southern Chiefs Organization described how shame and beatings were used in the psychology of control at boarding schools.  
Native children in the US and Canada were beaten and shamed when they spoke their own language, the only language they knew.
Dennis Banks, Anishinaabe, discussed the revitalization of the American Indian Movement. Banks announced a walk across America for Freedom for Leonard Peltier, beginning in Alcatraz in February and concluding in Washington DC in July 2015.
Dorothy Ninham, organizer of the Tribunal, urged a class action lawsuit against the US government and churches.
The Boarding Schools Tribunal in Green Bay, Oct. 22 -- 24, was the second annual Tribunal. The first Tribunal last year focused on Leonard Peltier and Indigenous Rights.

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