U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, on June 22, 2021, directed the Department of the Interior to investigate the Federal Indian boarding school system. A report released this month showed that between 1819 and 1969, the U.S. government operated or supported 408 primarily off-reservation boarding schools across 37 states (or then territories). These included 21 schools in Alaska and 7 schools in Hawaii.
The Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative Investigative Report maintained that the expressed purpose for the creation of these schools by the U.S. governments was to assimilate specifically American Indian, Alaskan Native, and Native Hawaiian children into a Christian European cultural system and to rob them further of their territories. It was a form of ethnic cleansing.
On initial investigation, at least half of the Federal Indian boarding schools received support or involvement from Christian religious institutions “or organization, including funding, infrastructure, and personnel.” The report goes on to state, “Initial investigation results show that approximately 50 percent of Federal Indian boarding schools may have received support or involvement from a religious institution or organization, including funding, infrastructure, and personnel.”
“As the U.S. Senate has recognized, funds from the 1819 Civilization Fund ‘were apportioned among those societies and individuals—usually missionary organizations—that had been prominent in the effort to “civilize” the Indians.’”
The Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative investigation found approximately 19 Federal Indian boarding schools accounted for over 500 American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian child deaths. Through further investigation, more remains are expected to be unearthed.
Deculturalization and Cultural Genocide
To “civilize” indigenous peoples and make them “productive” members of Christian European-American society, white mainly Christian teachers operated boarding schools for the U.S. government throughout the country. This system was organized by Lieutenant Richard Henry Pratt, who founded and personally supervised the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania.
As Pratt related to a Baptist audience regarding his theory of education, “[We must immerse] Indians in our civilization, and when we get them under, [hold] them there until they are thoroughly soaked.” And, “We must kill the Indian in him to save the man.”
Pratt and the white teachers stripped Indian children of their cultures: they cut males’ hair short, forced them to wear Western-style clothing and to take a Western name, prohibited students from conversing in their native languages, confiscated and destroyed all their cultural and spiritual symbols, and they imposed the adoption of Christianity. For disobeying, children were often whipped with a leather strap, and/or isolated from their peers.
Europeans, when they invaded the North and South American continents and Africa, attempted to impose primarily Christian orthodoxy.
In his book Deculturalization and the Struggle for Equality, Joel Spring discusses “cultural genocide” defined as “the attempt to destroy other cultures” through forced acquiescence and assimilation to majority rule and Christian cultural and religious standards. This cultural genocide works through the process of “deculturalization,” which Spring describes as “the educational process of destroying a people’s culture and replacing it with a new culture.”
An example of cultural genocide and deculturalization can be seen in the case of Christian European American domination over First Nation peoples whom European Americans viewed as “uncivilized,” “godless heathens,” “barbarians,” and “devil worshipers.”
White Christian European Americans deculturalized indigenous peoples through many means: confiscation of land, forced relocation, undermining of their languages, cultures, and identities, forced conversion to Christianity, and the establishment of Christian day schools and off-reservation boarding schools far away from their people, which combined constitute “settler colonialism.”
“Civilizing” Indians became a euphemism for Christian conversion. A mid-19th century missionary wrote, “As tribes and nationals the Indians must perish and live only as men, [and should] fall in with Christian civilization that is destined to cover the earth.”
Christian Colonialism and the Doctrine of Discovery
Throughout history, nations have invaded not only their neighbors’ lands but also territories across the globe. The dominant nation attempts to colonize not only indigenous peoples’ domains (territorial imperialism), but also their customs, language, and, in fact, their very way of life. In countries with a historical legacy of colonization, members of dominant groups have accumulated unearned privileges not accorded to others.
Though the official term “colonization” may have changed somewhat, nowhere in the world have we experienced a truly post-colonial society. Imperialism remains, though at times possibly in less visible forms.
From a series of papal bulls (decrees or edicts) beginning in the 1100s, began sanctions, expulsions, ex-communications, and expressions of territorial sovereignty for Christian monarchs supported by the Catholic Church. These bulls established what would come to be known as the Doctrine of Discovery: a spiritual, political, and legal justification for the seizure of territories not already inhabited by Christians.
Two of these papal bulls particularly stand out:
Pope Nicholas V issued his “Romanus Pontifex” in 1455 granting Portugal a monopoly trading status with Africa and authorizing the enslavement of indigenous populations. He called for Christians “to invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans,” take their possessions, and “reduce their persons to perpetual slavery.”
And Pope Alexander VI issued “Inter Caetera” in 1493 to justify Christian European explorers’ claims on land and waterways they “discovered,” and to promote Christian domination in Africa, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and the Americas.
This edict gives license to the genocide of black, brown, and non-Christians across the world. It was the stimulus for Columbus’ travels and is based on Christian white supremacy.
The United States justified its Monroe Doctrine in the 1880s by declaring dominion over the Western Hemisphere, and its claim of Manifest Destiny of expansionism westward to control all land from the Atlantic to the Pacific and beyond.
In 1823, in the Supreme Court case, Johnson v. M’Intosh, the Doctrine of Discovery became part of a federal law used to dispossess Native peoples of their lands. In a unanimous decision, Chief Justice John Marshall wrote, “that the principle of discovery gave European nations an absolute right to New World lands” and Native peoples certain rights of occupancy.
Who Belongs In America?
Beginning the first day Europeans stepped foot on what has come to be known as “the Americas” up until this very day, decisions over who can enter the United States and who can eventually gain citizenship status have generally depended on issues of “race.” U.S. immigration systems have reflected and have served as this country’s official “racial” policies at any given point in time.
Europeans on the North and South American continents established their domination based on a program of exploitation, violence, kidnapping, and genocide against native populations.
For example, the Puritans left England for the Americas to practice a “purer” form of Protestant Christianity. They believed they were divinely chosen to form “a biblical commonwealth” with no separation between religion and government. They tolerated no other faiths or interpretations of divine precepts. In fact, they murdered and expelled Quakers, Catholics, and others.
The American colonies followed European perceptions of race. A 1705 Virginia statute, the “Act Concerning Servants and Slaves,” read: “[N]o negroes, mulattos or Indians, Jew, Moor, Mahometan [Muslims], or other infidel, or such as are declared slaves by this act, shall, notwithstanding, purchase any christian (sic) white servant….”
In 1790, the newly constituted United States Congress passed the Naturalization Act, which excluded all nonwhites from citizenship, including Asians, enslaved Africans, and Native Americans, the later whom they defined in oxymoronic terms as “domestic foreigners,” even though they had inhabited this land for thousands of years. Congress did not grant Native Americans rights of citizenship until 1924 with the passage of the Indian Citizenship Act, though Asians continued to be denied naturalized citizenship status.
Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate states asserted, “[Slavery] was established by decree of Almighty God…it is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation…it has existed in all ages, has been found among the people of the highest civilization, and in nations of the highest proficiency in the arts.”
Many slaving ships had a Christian minister onboard to oversee and bless the passage. Slaving ships included the names: “Jesus,” “Grace of God,” “Angel,” “Liberty,” and “Justice.”
The U.S. Supreme Court, in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857) ruled that “a negro, whose ancestors were imported into [the U.S.], and sold as slaves,” whether enslaved or free, could not be an American citizen and therefore, could not sue in federal court; and the federal government had no power to regulate slavery in federal territories acquired after the creation of the United States.
Dred Scott, an enslaved man of “the negro African race” had been taken by his slave masters to free states and territories. He tried to sue for his freedom. In a 7–2 decision written by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, the Supreme Court denied Scott’s request, and Scott remained enslaved.
Now the United States Supreme Court is coming after women’s rights to control their bodies using supposed Christian precepts as its grounding.