Truth and Reconciliation

Carlisle Industrial School class, 1907
Zoa Hardin (#5), Carlisle Industrial School, 1907. Courtesy Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center, United States National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC.

On September 30, Canada acknowledged its first National Truth and Reconciliation Day to acknowledge the system of residential boarding schools utilized across North America for the purpose of the assimilation of Native children. This is one of the results of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which between 2008 and 2015 compiled testimony and records of residential schools and their victims and survivors, outlining the ways the Canadian government, in concert with religious organizations, committed “certain harms and abuses … against those children.”[1] In the U.S., we refer to these, usually, as Indian boarding schools. And while, as of yet, there has been no thorough process of truth and reconciliation in the United States, there is growing recognition of the injustices perpetrated on Indigenous children at the hands of the government and their religious accomplices, including the efforts of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland on the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative and an announcement on Sept. 30 of the reintroduction of The Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States Act in the U.S. Senate.[2]

An earlier post in Displaced Native shared some of the history and context for Indian boarding schools. In this post, I’d like to share a story of my own ancestor’s experience at Carlisle boarding school. As difficult as it is to face the many ways our peoples have been harmed by invasion, land theft, and subsequent attempts at genocide, it is critical that these histories not be erased forever. We, the descendants of our ancestors and survivors of those schools, have an opportunity to honor their lives and difficulties, and give voice for those who could not speak.

In August of 1911, my cousin[3] Julia Hardin, age 16, and her younger sister Maggie were enrolled in Carlisle boarding school by their eldest sister Zoa. Their parents had both since passed away, leaving the younger siblings under Zoa’s care. Zoa herself, along with her younger brother Thomas, had each graduated from Carlisle following their mother’s death. After her graduation, Zoa was eventually offered the position of matron of the Kickapoo school—although she only received 80% of the standard salary because she was an Indian.[4]

The public records for students at the schools can be scarce. Many of the records aren’t viewable online, and some are even in the possession of religious organizations and inaccessible to descendants. I was able, however, to uncover more than I expected about Julia and her experience at Carlisle.

Carlisle Indian Industrial School was founded in 1879 by Richard Pratt, the man famous for saying, “A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one. . . . In a sense, I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.” For 39 years, Carlisle became home to thousands of Indian children, sent far away from their families in order to be indoctrinated into the lower echelons of white culture. Stripped of all aspects of Native identity (including their clothing, language, ceremonies, and names), students were taught to be farmers, laborers, and house keepers. The school was upheld as a model for Indian education and copied in 357 schools in the United States and 140 in Canada. Hundreds of thousands of Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families and taken hundreds of miles from home to attend these so-called schools. As has been described extensively, the boarding schools were notorious for poor nutrition, overcrowding, and abuse. Epidemics of tuberculosis, trachoma, measles, pneumonia, mumps, and influenza regularly swept through overcrowded dormitories, bringing death and despair to students.[5]

One component of the boarding schools was the practice of “outings,” an innocent-seeming term for the practice of forcing students to serve as low-paid workers in the houses and farms of white people during the summer. Students were routinely underpaid, or wages withheld from this work, and they were charged for their train tickets to their assignments. The schools, however, used the funds from the students’ labor to fund their own salaries. The superintendent and several staffers of Carlisle were investigated in 1914 after numerous petitions by hundreds of students regarding the conditions of the school and persistent abuse. A congressional investigative committee was sent to the school unannounced to conduct inspections and gather testimony of events from students and staff. According to the report:

“The patrons are anxious to employ these students, not as philanthropists but to get cheap labor on the farms and in their kitchens, especially in view of the fact that their wages are about one half of what would have to be paid for white labor; this notwithstanding they are sent to school with the understanding that they are to receive academic and industrial training at the school or learn a trade, are sent out into the country.”[6]

The same report includes testimony which alludes to other ways in which Native girls were exploited as part of the “outing” system:

“He discontinued the practices of sending girls as waitresses to seaside resorts for obvious reasons; that he discontinued letting favored persons in cities have girl pupils, running the risk of incurring powerful enmity by doing so.”[7]

In the summer of 1913, Julia was 18 years old, and had been at Carlisle for two years. According to her testimony for the congressional hearing, she wanted to go on a summer outing, as many of her friends were also leaving for the summer. However, she didn’t feel prepared to go because she lacked the proper clothing and a trunk to carry it in. She requested more time to prepare, but was encouraged to sign up for an outing anyway so that the matron in charge of organizing outings could find a placement for her. A short while later, she was told just before dinner to pack her things, as she was to leave on a train first thing in the morning. She immediately went to the matron to explain that she was still not prepared to go. The matron referred her to the superintendent, saying it wasn’t up to her. Julia went to Superintendent Friedman to request more time, and he sent her back to the matron. At this point, the matron demanded that Julia sign the check to pay for her train fare and leave in the morning. Julia refused to go. Becoming angry, the matron asked for assistance from the school’s bandmaster, Claude Stauffer. Stauffer became enraged at Julia’s refusal and went to the school’s superintendent for permission to punish Julia. In his words, he thought “she needed a good spanking.” While corporal punishment was not to be used in the schools, the superintendent agreed, telling Stauffer to “do what he needed to.” Returning to the room, Stauffer hit Julia in the face, knocking her to the ground. He then proceeded to pull a board from around the window while another matron closed the curtains and locked the door. Using the board, he hit Julia for about ten minutes, until he became exhausted, pushing her against the wall several times as she tried to protect her face and head. Julia estimates that she was hit about 60 times.

Soon, another teacher came into the room. Seeing Julia’s condition, he encouraged her to “do what she was told,” and asked her if she would please depart for the outing. She agreed. The teachers then locked her in a room for the night and she was sent to her country assignment the following day. Julia spent the summer scrubbing floors, doing laundry, cooking, and cleaning for a rural white family, earning about $6 per month for her labor (the committee stressed the fact that the same labor, performed by black or white girls, would pay $5 or $6 per week). After three months, she returned to the school.

Her student health record makes no note of this beating or her injuries. In fact, it comments upon her return to the school in July of 1913, noting that her health “has improved very much with the outing.[8]

Following this incident, staff involved in the beating drafted letters and brought a notary to the school to compel Julia and other students to sign letters supporting Stauffer over this and other incidents. This, too, became part of the Congressional report. Julia’s testimony, along with the brave testimony of many other students and faculty related to other incidents of physical abuse, neglect, and mismanagement of school funds, led to the dismissal of Stauffer and Superintendent Friedman. Within four years of this investigation, Carlisle was the first of the boarding schools to close.

While Julia’s case (and that of her classmates) was brought before a Congressional committee, and they were able to successfully oust the people directly responsible for much of the abuse that took place at that time at Carlisle, it is also true that most of the abuses which occurred at boarding schools were underreported. Even when abuse was reported, the schools refused to investigate. A 1989 Congressional report on Child Sex Abuse in Federal Indian Schools plainly states, “There has been a complete administrative breakdown in detecting and reporting pedophile teachers and other employees at BIA schools. BIA has allowed pedophiles to continue teaching even after they were reported to BIA school officials. In fact, BIA administrators repeatedly failed to report child sexual abuse allegations to law enforcement authorities and even threatened persons making allegations with slander suits.”[9] After detailing numerous cases of persistent sexual abuse of Native children by government officials, the report explains that part of the failure was a lack of policy requiring the reporting of sexual abuse, which was not instituted until 1987. Even requirements for stronger background checks of teachers were not put in place until 1988. As explained by the Lakota People’s Law Project in their 2015 call to action, no U.S. president has apologized for the atrocities committed to Native people, and a full accounting of the abuse of Native children at the hands of government officials, priests, nuns, and other paid staffers has not taken place in the United States.[10] Hopefully, with the leadership of Secretary Haaland and the current efforts of Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Congresswoman Sharice Davids (D-Kan.), and Congressman Tom Cole (R-Okla.), the U.S. government will finally acknowledge its role in damaging the lives of at least a hundred thousand Indian children in the course of nearly a century.

By comparison, the Canadian Truth Commission on Genocide, which pre-dated the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, issued a report in 2001 implicating the Canadian government and its religious institutions in the murder of over 50,000 Native children, in addition to severe abuse and torture.[11] The report lists the kinds of crimes committed against children by priests, nuns, visiting officials, and other staff, including “murder by beating, poisoning, hanging, starvation, strangulation, electric shocks, medical experiments, being thrown from windows and being kicked or thrown down stairs.” The children who have been recently discovered in unmarked or mass graves (and finally sent home) throughout Canada were victims of these crimes, including the babies born to Native girls due to rape by priests and other church officials. As the report explains, [it was] a matter of regular practice, inducing abortions in young women made pregnant by rape by school staff, clergy, and visiting officials, causing miscarriages and deaths; and coercing women into abortions through threats and violence [as well as] deliberately killing the newborn babies of such pregnant mothers, along with the mothers, in order not to implicate the fathers; and burying the remains of mother and child in secret burial sites on residential school and church property; and subsequently falsifying school, government, and mortuary documents to erase the record of these murdered persons.”

It should be noted that not all students of boarding schools had negative experiences. For some students, attending the schools became an opportunity for improvement. In many of the schools, including Carlisle, Native students found ways to connect with one another and practice tribal traditions, language, and art. Notably, the experience of bringing Native youth from all over Indian Country together in these institutions contributed to contemporary pan-Indian movements, including when several former Carlisle students (among others) formed The society of American Indians in 1911, the first Indian-rights organization led by Native Americans. Acts of resistance were common, and many children bravely stood up to the authorities who had power over them.[12] We can respect those various experiences while not turning away from the uncountable amounts of abuse suffered by too many.

In contemporary times, the U.S. and Canadian boarding schools have changed. Most of the schools closed beginning in the 1970s, with many others being taken over by tribal communities for the benefit of their young people. While this post won’t discuss the history or implications of these transitions, it is important to acknowledge that the concerns of Indian education continue to be relevant throughout all of Indian Country, and many efforts have been made by Native peoples to reclaim our power and authority to educate ourselves and our children.

My ancestor’s story, however, has really hit home. My research into Julia’s experience was spurred by a handwritten letter that is part of her school record, addressed to a fellow tragedy. In the letter, Julia writes from her summer outing:

“Hello Dearest: Don’t be surprised if you see I and “Blanch” coming and going behind those “bars” again. No Pep, we both have been there before, haha. Why, we ran off to another town, and went to a dance, from 2-4. Just got back and “Blanche’s” country mother, is “raving.” She knows all about it. I don’t know how she found it out, “O you can’t expect any better for we have been going over limit. All I care about is you. I hate to get in there again. Any way we’ll do our best to get out of it. haha. I’m so nervous I can hardly hold this pen. I hate to go on home. as I know what’s coming. Mailed your letter this a.m. will write later and see you all. Bye Bye, Julia.”[13]

Letter from Julia Hardin to Tony La Jeunesse
The letter from Julia Hardin to Tony La Jeunesse dated June 1913. Courtesy Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center, United States National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC.

I don’t know what did happen to her after she returned to Carlisle, outside of the congressional testimony. She and her sister Maggie departed the school a few months after the hearings. The school followed up in August of that year requesting payment for dental services, which marks the end of her student record at Carlisle.

When I shared my research with my mother, she remarked, “Well, the same thing happened to her that happened to us.” Specifically, she means that Julia was beaten by a white man who became angry at her refusal to obey him, a pattern which, unfortunately, has been repeated on the backs and faces of many of my female relatives, my own mother, and me.

Within our communities, we have begun to understand the impact of intergenerational trauma. In sharing Julia’s story, it is important to me that we not fall into the trap of simply blaming these events on differences of “the past.” Even the white men in charge of the congressional hearing expressed their dismay at Carlisle staff for justifying the physical abuses of children in 1914. But I have also lived in fear of “what’s coming,” knowing too well the inflamed tempers of men, their excuses for violence, and the institutions organized around protecting them. And nothing about my experience, as difficult as it has been to live and to heal from, is unique. We carry the visible and hidden scars of hundreds of years of abuse at the hands of these men. How can our spirits remain whole as we carry these burdens?

Any process of truth and reconciliation will not undo the events of the past and cannot magically heal these wounds. By telling the truth, we remove the cloaks of shame and secrecy that are given to us by these abusers who depend on them for their own protection from the prosecution they rightly deserve. When survivors, families, and whole societies are able to face the truth of these crimes and grapple with the dynamics of power and control that enable them, we take the steps toward preventing their recurrence. The United States and Christian denominations should be held accountable for their actions toward Indian people, both past and present. If ever this country will live up to its ideal of “truth and justice for all,” then we must start with exactly that: truth. And, justice, for all.

As I learn more about Julia’s experience and the stories of other children and what they endured in these government-sanctioned institutions, I better understand what role I will play in “breaking the cycles” that too many of us have found ourselves in. My husband and I are expecting our first child, a daughter, next March. I have waited a very long time to become a parent, in part because of my own childhood experiences of abuse. For the past decade, I have been driven to find a person I could trust to become the father of my children. And now that we are finally here, I know what else is vitally important to me. Of all the things I hope to provide to my daughter, there is one thing I know: unlike so many of us, my daughter will not be beaten or sexually abused by her father. She will not know the fear of “what’s coming,” having suffered at the hands of angry men who enjoy hurting women, and who are then protected by the “authorities” to whom we’ve reported their violence. My daughter will know what it means to feel safe, at least at her home. While many families can happily take this aspect of family life for granted, too many of us have not been afforded that experience. And so, not only will I share Julia’s story, and the stories of many other survivors of boarding schools, but I will do everything in my power to interrupt these cycles of abuse, starting with my child.

It is with profound love and sadness that I offer these stories. Julia Hardin died in 1964. I’m still looking for additional records to help identify her closest living relatives, my relatives. Today, I remember her and offer prayers and gratitude to her, and for the stories yet untold. May we find the courage to tell the truth, and may our actions lift the burdens of grief still carried by our ancestors and those who remain.

Mickki Garrity (Bodewadmi) is an enrolled in the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, a Cobell Scholar, a Doris Duke Conservation Scholar, and is pursuing a BS in Native environmental science at Northwest Indian College.

[1] Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, May 8, 2006. Indian Residential Schools Settlement – Official Court Website.

[2] The Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States Act

[3] Julia Hardin, born 1895, was the niece of my 3rd great-grandmother, Elizabeth Hardin Anderson. “Cousin” is the simplest way of describing our kin relationship.

[4] Request for Zoa Hardin to be Appointed to Assistant Matron Position. August, 1907. National Archives and Records Administration.

[5] American Indian Boarding Schools in The United States: A Brief History and Their Current Legacy. Denise K. Lajimodiere. From the book Indigenous Peoples’ Access to Justice, Including Truth and Reconciliation Processes. 2014.

[6] Brief of Charges, Answers, and Evidence in Case Moses Friedman, Superintendent Carlisle School, PA. Based on Original Report of Inspector Linnen. p 61. May 1914. National Archives and Records Administration.

[7] Brief of Charges, Answers, and Evidence in Case Moses Friedman, Superintendent Carlisle School, PA. Based on Original Report of Inspector Linnen. p 63

[8] Julia Hardin Student File. National Archives and Records Administration.

[9] 101st Congress, 1st Session, Report 101-216. Final Report and Legislative Recommendations: A report of the Special Committee on Investigations of the Select Committee on Indian Affairs, United States Senate. November 20, 1989. The Office for Victims of Crime.

[10] Truth and Reconciliation in the United States of America. Lakota People’s Law Project. December, 2015.

[11] Hidden from History: The Canadian Holocaust. The Untold Story of the Genocide of Aboriginal Peoples by Church and State in Canada. The Truth Commission into Genocide in Canada. 2001.

[12] See the books Pipestone by Adam Fortunate Eagle and The Earth Memory Compass by Farina King, as well as the articles From Classroom to Battlefield: The Role of Students in the Closing of Carlisle Indian Industrial School, 1918 by Afrora Muça and The Shadows Of Assimilation: Narratives And Legacies Of The Carlisle Indian Boarding School 1879-1918  by Susan Hamilton Mitchell for an in-depth examination of the complexities of the boarding school experience.

[13] Julia Hardin Student File. Letter to Tony La Jeunesse, June 1913. National Archives and Records Administration.

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