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Wednesday, January 29, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Hard Lessons For Years, Thousands Of American Indian Children Were Sent To Boarding Schools, A Policy Many Say Took Away Their Culture

By Virginia De Leon Staff writer

For the first five years of her life, Rose Goddard’s world was one of elders singing native songs and children catching quail for dinner.

She lived on the Coeur d’Alene reservation with her “yaya,” her grandmother. She also lived with cousins, aunts, uncles - dozens of people who came to the house every night to eat beans and fry bread.

Goddard, now 52, left that world in 1950.

Like thousands of American Indian children in the last century, Goddard was sent to boarding school - a place where many wore uniforms, discovered Jesus, and learned to read and write.

For some, it was a place where they learned rules and discipline.

For others, it was a place where Indian children were stripped of their past - removed from their family, their spirituality, their culture, a place where they were trained to be “white.”

Today, the Indian boarding school experience is a piece of history relatively unknown to many nonIndians, a lesson rarely taught in classrooms.

Its repercussions are still felt in many Indian homes today.

“It was a method of making the Indians disappear,” said Bill Kostelec, a Gonzaga University assistant professor who teaches a course on Native American religious traditions. “Boarding schools were an instrument of breaking up families, which was and still is part of their culture. … There was the assumption behind it all that the native culture was not only inferior, but harmful.”

Opinions vary depending on the individuals, the schools they attended and the period in history.

Goddard, a Coeur d’Alene, was sent to Convent Mary Immaculate in DeSmet, Idaho.

When she arrived, the Sisters of Providence cut her long black hair. In case she had lice, they washed her head with kerosene.

The nuns fed her, bathed her, then dressed her in clean, used clothing.

“It wasn’t a heartbreaking thing,” said Goddard, who now works as a secretary in Idaho’s Sacred Heart Mission. “I had a good life. The nuns were good to me. They fed me three meals a day.”

Still, others tell horror stories.

Susan Arreola, a Colville of the Arrow Lakes band, was educated at St. Mary’s Mission in Omak, Wash.

She remembers being beaten, starved and sometimes molested. The nuns pulled her hair, she said. A priest there once whipped her, she recalled, because she refused to pick up books dropped by another student.

“What kind of God would do this to kids?” asked Arreola, who was sent to boarding school as a 5-year-old. “I never felt like I had a childhood.”

There was no alternative, said Peter Campbell, an Indian of Coeur d’Alene and Arrow Lakes descent who heads the American Indian Studies Program at Eastern Washington University. Boarding school for Indians was the law at the turn of the century. Until the 1970s, school buses rarely picked up children who lived on the reservations.

Despite the prayers he learned and the English language he adopted when he went to DeSmet Boarding School in Idaho, he knew from the very beginning that his Indian spirit would overcome “the white man’s ways.”

“They were painful times and, yes, it was traumatic,” said Campbell, who was sent to DeSmet when he was 5. “But I knew even then that it was necessary so we could go on as a people. Our parents saw it as a way of preservation. (The boarding school) protected us from disease and violence. It saved us for the future.”

“Kill the Indian and save the man,” was the boarding school motto of the late 1800s.

Boarding school became national policy in 1879, after an experiment conducted on 72 Plains Indians by Capt. Richard Pratt of the United States Army.

After seeing the “heathens” transformed into “civilized Christians,” many congratulated Pratt for his work. Four years later, he started the Carlisle School for Indian Studies in Pennsylvania and received financial support from “Friends of the Indian,” a white organization devoted to “saving the savage.”

Unlike those who wanted to exterminate the Indian, the “friends” were considered liberal at the time, said James Stripes, a Washington State University professor who teaches American Indian history.

Despite their good - yet misguided - intentions, they still attempted to destroy a culture, he said.

“It was genocidal,” Stripes said. “One (method) was aimed at the body and one was aimed at the mind.”

Before and after photos from Carlisle show the transformation: Indian children came wearing buckskin, beads, moccasins and feathers. Within days, they were made over like dolls. Their hair - a source of pride for many Indians - was cut and combed back. Boys wore suits and ties or Army uniforms. Girls donned long, Victorian-style dresses.

Assimilation into the white culture became the rule.

They were forbidden from talking in their native languages. They were punished for dancing, smudging and practicing their Indian traditions. No longer could they speak of their parents, relatives or tribe.

After Carlisle, the federal government started 25 Indian industrial schools across the country, among them, Chemawa Indian School in Salem, Ore., Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kan., and Cushman in Tacoma.

Catholic and Protestant missionaries also started their own boarding schools.

In the Inland Northwest, they usually came to one of three missions - DeSmet, Francis Regis in Ward, Wash., St. Mary’s Mission - or the government-run school at Fort Spokane.

“I never saw boarding school as an ideal,” said the Rev. Joe Obersinner, a Jesuit priest who taught at St. Mary’s from 1959 to 1971. “(Indians attending school) was a good regulation in one sense. The bad part was that they were made to feel like savages.”

At most boarding schools, especially those at the turn of the century, children were required to wake up at 5 a.m. in time for church service or chores. They marched into a mess hall where they ate oatmeal for breakfast. After half a day of classes, girls learned how to sew or cook. Boys tried their hand at farming, carpentry and other trades.

They slept together in two rooms with beds lined against the walls - boys in one, girls in the other.

In the summers, they had an “outing,” a few months spent living with white families.

Indian children at the turn of the century had no choice but to attend boarding school. But in later years, especially after World War II, many Native Americans willingly sent their children to the schools. It was the only education they could get, many said. The schools also became an alternative to foster homes or juvenile detention.

Goddard’s family was the product of boarding schools. Everyone in her family also was Catholic.

“It’s a white man’s world,” her grandmother, Agatha Joseph, once said. “Learn how to live in it. Don’t forget you’re Indian, but this is how life is going to be from now on.”

In 1952, the Bureau of Indian Affairs closed all the federally-run schools in Idaho, Washington and Montana. Those operated by the Protestants and Catholics remained open until 1980. Today, some of those schools, such as Paschal Sherman in Omak, still exist but they are managed and taught by Indians.

For some boarding school graduates, life after school was almost as traumatic as their educational experience. Despite the training they received, many found that their boarding school education only helped them become professional servants for white families. Many returned to the reservation where some lived in a kind of shadowland - a world where they had to straddle both Indian and mainstream culture.

“The net affect is that an awful lot of children came out of boarding schools ashamed of being Indian,” Kostelec said. “You have generations of people who have lost their language … and their contact with age-old traditions” - people who have no identity and suffer as a result.

Arreola, who moved to Spokane in 1993, blames the abuse she experienced in boarding school for the alcoholism and drug addiction she has since put behind her.

She was always angry and volatile.

Because she was separated from her parents at age 5, she didn’t know how to raise her own children, she said. The hunger she experienced made her prone to obesity, she said.

She saw a therapist for eight years.

“I didn’t know how to be human because no one taught me how,” said the 44-year-old. “But I survived. I made it through boarding school.”

Goddard, who attended Indian boarding school for 11 years, graduated in 1961 from St. Joseph’s in Sprague, Wash. She went to Portland to become a beautician but returned to the reservation 10 months later.

“The white man’s world wasn’t for me,” she said.

She endured a great deal of discrimination outside Indian country. As a result, she hated Indians and she hated being one, she said. If people thought she was Mexican or of another ethnic origin, she didn’t correct them.

Her lack of identity wasn’t due to the boarding school, she said. Even if she had lived on the reservation, no one would have taught her the language and traditions, she said.

It wasn’t until she was in her 30s that she was comfortable with her Indian identity. She started dancing in powwows and making outfits with buckskin and beads. Now, she has taught her 14 grandchildren what it means to be Indian, she said.

“Indian is what you feel inside,” said Goddard, who has worked as a secretary at Sacred Heart Mission for 13 years. “It’s not what you wear. … I know I’m Catholic and I’m Indian. I can walk in both worlds. I know who I am.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 4 Photos (2 Color)

MEMO: See related story under headline: In the heartache, she finds a connection

This sidebar appeared with the story: Museum program “They Sacrificed for Our Survival: The Indian Boarding School Experience” will be on display at the Cheney Cowles Museum until June 15. The museum also will host a series of related programs Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m. in the auditorium: April 16 - Personal experiences in Indian boarding schools, Chuck Bart of the Colville Confederated Tribes and Peter Campbell who is of Coeur d’Alene and Arrow Lakes descent April 30 - “The Healing of Emotional Wounds,” Robbie Paul of the Nez Perce May 21 - Personal experiences, Darlene “Doll” Watt of the Colville Confederated Tribes June 4 - Personal experiences, Lawrence Aripa of the Coeur D’Alene Tribe June 11 - Catholic Story of Indian Education in the Northwest

See related story under headline: In the heartache, she finds a connection

This sidebar appeared with the story: Museum program “They Sacrificed for Our Survival: The Indian Boarding School Experience” will be on display at the Cheney Cowles Museum until June 15. The museum also will host a series of related programs Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m. in the auditorium: April 16 - Personal experiences in Indian boarding schools, Chuck Bart of the Colville Confederated Tribes and Peter Campbell who is of Coeur d’Alene and Arrow Lakes descent April 30 - “The Healing of Emotional Wounds,” Robbie Paul of the Nez Perce May 21 - Personal experiences, Darlene “Doll” Watt of the Colville Confederated Tribes June 4 - Personal experiences, Lawrence Aripa of the Coeur D’Alene Tribe June 11 - Catholic Story of Indian Education in the Northwest

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