The Associated Press, April 24, 1999

Abuse in American Indian Boarding Schools
Reflections of former students:


``There was one fella (a dorm attendant) that was having mental health problems, and they sent him to the school to get him out of the way. Anyway, he would have these psychotic episodes and hear voices, and he would just come out of his room in the middle of the night and randomly pick people out and whip them severely for no reason.''

-- Peter Campbell, Colville/Coeur d'Alene, who attended two Roman Catholic boarding schools in Washington and Idaho in the 1950s.

``Our (dorm) matron, she would spank us real hard on the rear, put us over this old-fashioned laundry tub, and just spank the hell out of us. It got to the point where it didn't bother us, so she would use her high heels. She would start slapping your face, hitting us until we cried. We learned to start crying so she would stop. Someday I'd like to confront her and talk to her about what she did to us.''

-- Ethel Sales, Navajo, who attended a Christian Reformed mission school in Rehobeth, N.M.

``I loved it. I would cry when I had to go home. They were very good to us.''

-- Leola Johnston, Choctaw, who attended St. Agnes Academy, a Roman Catholic boarding school in Oklahoma.


``There's an expression in Ojibwe, pronounced hai'. It's like `too bad,' showing sympathy. As I was getting off the bus for the first time, I said that to someone who tripped. I got slapped by the matron, who said, `You don't use that language here.'''

-- Jim Northrup, Fond du Lac Chippewa, who attended the Pipestone Indian Training School in Pipestone, Minn., in the 1940s and '50s.

``They used to take this brown soap, and if they caught us talking Indian, they made us eat the brown soap. She (a friend) and I used to hide in this steel closet talking Indian. We got caught once, and this lady closed the door on us and almost smothered us ... She told us never to talk Indian again, but we did, whenever anyone was out of earshot.''

-- Jo Anna Meninick, Yakama, who attended the Chemawa Indian School in Salem, Ore., in the 1950s.

``I had a few friends whose family spoke the same language that I did, but the language had been discouraged for so many years that truly nobody was speaking it. When we were speaking about something confidential, then we'd go in a corner and talk the language to one another and be shush-shush about it, and know we were breaking the rules.''

-- Vi Hilbert, Upper Skagit, who attended boarding schools in Washington and Oregon in the 1920s and '30s and is now a tribal language-preservation activist.


``I used religion as a way to ask God to help me. They said if you ask God for anything, he'll help you, so I'd want to talk to God. I made sure I was the first one in line on Sunday, so when I went into the church I would be in the front row, so if Jesus came, I could tell him I want to come home. I believed Jesus was coming and he would help us out of that dilemma. But God never came. The government won.''

-- Meninick.

``My mother and father explained to me that I was going into a strange world. They prepared me very well for the occasion with religion. As I left home, my mother gave me a pouch of corn pollen. She said, 'Keep this. This is like your Bible. Someone is going to try to take it away from you, but this is yours. You keep it, this is your church, your belief.' I kept it. No one ever took it away from me.''

-- Peterson Zah, a former president of the Navajo Nation who graduated from the Phoenix Indian School in 1958.

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