Cultural Genocide

"Kill the Indian...and save the man" was the founding mission of Richard H. Pratt, the driving force behind Indian boarding schools, a massive federal project that separated thousands of Native American children from their families and warehoused them in state-run institutions. Parents who refused to send their children to the schools could be legally imprisoned and deprived of resources such as food and clothing which were scarce on reservations.

Three of the 25 Indian boarding schools run by the U.S. government were in California. Their goal was to stamp out all vestiges of Native cultural traditions and replace them with white, Christian customs and norms. It was common practice for administrators to bathe new students in kerosene and to cut off their hair. School days were regulated with military precision. Children were put into a cultural assimilation program and were punished for speaking in their Native language or for practicing any ancestral customs. Children’s given names were replaced with Christian ones. So-called “outing programs” trained children to work as farmers, maids, and cooks for white families, providing a steady stream of cheap labor. There were reports of physical, including sexual, abuse at the schools. Native children resisted.

Some ran away, refused to work, and secretly spoke their languages. For years, Native communities protested for the right to educate their own children. But it wasn’t until 1978 that parents won the legal right to prevent family separation. Many boarding schools that once housed assimilation programs are now public schools. To address intergenerational trauma, tribes in California are insisting that these schools reflect the students they serve, with curriculum that incorporates their language, culture, and traditions. They are also working with the ACLU to put an end to disciplinary practices that target Native students, and to ensure the proper allocation of funds earmarked for high-need students.

Native dances and so-called Native feasts should be prohibited. In many cases these dances and feasts are simply subterfuges to cover degrading acts and to disguise immoral purposes. You are directed to use your best efforts in the suppression of these evils.

- Letter to Greenville School from Office of Native Affairs

Erika Tracy

Audio interview with Erika Tracy, Hoopa Tribal Education Association

Erika Tracy, Executive Director of the Hoopa Tribal Education Association

Indian Boarding School

Photo: Native Children at Carlisle Indian Industrial School
Credit: Cumberland County Historical Society, Carlisle, PA

Indian Boarding School

Bus transporting children to Sherman
Credit: Sherman Indian Museum Archives


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The mission of Gold Chains is to uncover the hidden history of slavery in California by lifting up the voices of courageous African American and Native American individuals who challenged their brutal treatment and demanded their civil rights, inspiring us with their ingenuity, resilience, and tenacity. We aim to expose the role of the courts, laws, and the tacit acceptance of white supremacy in sanctioning race-based violence and discrimination that continues into the present day. Through an unflinching examination of our collective past, we invite California to become truly aware and authentically enlightened.